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Delfeayo Marsalis: Sweet Thunder

Edward Blanco By

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Acclaimed trombonist and member of the first family of jazz, Delfeayo Marsalis launches Sweet Thunder: Duke & Shak, an original theatrical jazz production culled from live performances in thirty-six locations across the country. The play was born from Marsalis' affinity for the music of Duke Ellington and the poetry of Shakespeare: first brought to the musical stage in the 1957 production of Such Sweet Thunder at the Shakespeare Festival I Stratford, Canada. Both Ellington and Billy Strayhorn were invited to compose music in tribute to The Bard, and came up with 15 compositions for that date.

Sweet Thunder streamlines Ellington and Strayhorn's original charts into a 12-movement suite, bringing an all-star list of players, including brothers Branford Marsalis and Jason Marsalis. for the recording. Staying true to Ellington's original compositions for an octet, the majority of the pieces employ an eight-man ensemble, featuring a solid horn section including soprano saxophonist Victor Goines (when Branford is not playing), altoist Mark Gross, trumpeter Tiger Okoshi, and baritone saxophonist Jason W. Marshall. When Jason Marsalis is not doing the honors, renowned drummer Winard Harper steps in, while piano great Mulgrew Miller rounds out the rhythm section.

The disc is a departure from the original Such Sweet Thunder in that Marsalis, the arranger, adds his own personal touch to the original music, injecting New Orlean-style melodic alterations along with some elements of blues, and the inclusion of poignant ballads like "Star-Crossed Lovers," "Sonnet for Caesar" and "Lady Mac." The opening title track come across a bit bluesy, with Branford leading the way on a sultry soprano march, as Delfeayo joins in with a little thunder of his own. "Sonnet to Hank Cinq" features swinging solos from each member of the horn section, providing the repertoire's first up-tempo burner.

With Jason on percussions and Harper on drums, "Half the Fun" kicks in with percussive flair, as Okoshi and Branford drive music reminiscent of a snake charmer's chant. Sounding more like a traditional big band chart à la Ellington, "Sonnet In Search of A Moor" is perhaps the only classical big band pieces here, with Jason weighing in with a furious performance. A touch of New Orleans can be heard tracks including "The Telecasters" and "Up & Down, Up & Down," while the boppish, straight-ahead closer, "Circle of Fourths," highlights sizzling solos from both the Delfeayo and tenor saxophonist Mark Shim, with pianist Victor "Red" Atkins adding a closing statement to this remarkable session.

The music of Sweet Thunder may not conjure up memorable phrases from the body of William Shakespeare's work, but the words "poetry in motion," seems more than adequate in describing the swing and power Delfeayo Marsalis provides, in this interpretation of a historic musical moment.

Track Listing: Such Sweet Thunder; Sonnet for Sister Kate; Sonnet to Hank Cinq; Half the Fun; Up & Down, Up & Down; Madness in Great Ones; Star-Crossed Lovers; Sonnet in Search of A Moor; The Telecasters; Sonnet for Caesar; Lady Mac; Circle of Fourths.

Personnel: Delfeayo Marsalis: trombone; Branford Marsalis: soprano saxophone; Jason Marsalis: drums (2, 6, 8-10, 12); Winard Harper: drums (1, 3-5, 7, 11); Tiger Okoshi: trumpet (1, 3, 5, 6, 10,11); Mark Gross: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone; Victor Goines: soprano saxophone (2, 5, 6, 8, 11,); Mark Shim: tenor saxophone (3,12); Jason Marshal: baritone saxophone; Mulgrew Miller: piano (1, 7, 9); Victor "Red" Atkins: piano (3-6, 8, 11, 12); Reginal Veal: bass (1); David Pulphus: bass (3, 4, 7, 9, 10); Charnett Moffet: bass (5, 6, 8, 11, 12).

Title: Sweet Thunder | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Troubadour Jass


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