Duke Ellington Love You Madly / A Concert of Sacred Music at Grace Cathedral Eagle Eye Media
With the glut of Ellingtonia on the market, it's impossible to separate the sublime from the merely wonderful. This release leans toward the former. Split into two programs, the first a televised profile of Duke from 1965, the second a film of his first Sacred Concert, it is a package of off-hand delights.
Love You Madly is a glowing profile of Duke on a 1965 tour. Made by jazz- crit icon Ralph Gleason, it avoids the talking head doc clichés, and captures the master at times of rest and reflection. Napping backstage with a hot towel on his face, asking Ralph if he should snore in tune, chatting idly in the car, and joking in a faceless hotel room, it offers a warm and generous sketch of a man burnishing his legend.
The most precious moment in the Emmy-nominated show is an impromptu recitation of the lyrics to "Love Came, which he felt were so desperate he refused to write music to them, so he sent them off to Billy Strayhorn. With a wink in his voice, he asks Ralph if he'd like to hear it. Placing some tape in the reel-to-reel, Duke spins Strayhorn's piano, and recites. It's a poem of youth and its disillusionment, and improbably buoyant. After his "blues are ended by love, he asks what comes next, and he'll "never know why/With a bit of a sigh/Love turned/And went/Away. He rests between the last three phrases, and then, with a smile, emphasizes and stretches the last syllable in "Away," until its decay acquires some weary acceptance by its speaker, as if this departure was inevitable, might as well laugh it off.
A Concert of Sacred Music at Grace Cathedral is glimpsed briefly in Love You Madly, but is contained in full on the second program. Aside from a brief history of it at the beginning, it is all performance. Duke's concert was one of many celebrating the completion of Grace Cathedral in the Nob Hill district of San Francisco, and it is not one of his finest works, although it inevitably has its moments of brilliance.
It is an attempt to combine the sacred and the profane, hymns and swing, and sometimes the seams show through. This is especially the case on "In the Beginning, God," where Jon Hendricks alternates between devotional and scat, with nary a transition between. The contribution of The Speaking Choir, tonelessly chanting the books of the bible, is a gimmick more suited to educational television.
But Ellington being Ellington, there are some gems, including his dizzying solo work, "New World A-Comin'," and a ravishing take on "Come Sunday by Esther Marrow. The finale, "David Danced Before the Lord," has a choice tap solo by the "most super levianthonic, rhythmaturgically syncopated tapstaticianimist Bunny Briggs, although it's marred by poor camera workyou barely get a glance at those magic feet of his.
Love You Madly
Rockin In Rhythm; Take The A Train; Far East Suite; In My Solitude; Sophisticated Lady; Satin Doll; Cottontail; Moon Indigo; Jeeps Blues; The Lords Prayer; Come Sunday; Love Came; Things Aint What They Used To Be.
A Concert of Sacred Music
Overture to Black, Brown and Beige; Tell Me Its The Truth; In The Beginning, God; Aint But The One; New World A-Comin; The Lords Prayer; Come Sunday; David Danced Before The Lord.