William Shakespeare's works have generated many musical endeavors. Duke Ellington's Such Sweet Thunder (Columbia Records, 1957) and Leonard Bernstein's score for West Side Story are among those which come to mind. In 1941, British composer Arthur Young recorded Shakespeare in Swing (Decca Records, 1941), which featured his compositions over Shakespeare's words. And, in 1964, celebrated British reed player John Dankworth and his wife, Cleo Laine, recorded Shakespeare and All that Jazz, (Fontana Records, 1964), a collection predominantly of Dankworth's jazz tunes with lyrics taken from Shakespeare.
With The Shakespeare Project, vocalist Deborah Shulman not only resurrects and refreshes some of the Young/Dankworth-Lane efforts, but adds some terrific new originals from pianist/co-producer, Jeff Colella.
Starting with a track which combines Dankworth's "All the World's a Stage" around the up-tempo "If Music Be the Food of Love," it is obvious that this is not going to be a novelty or an over-intellectualized effort. The upbeat tone continues with the modal and swinging, "Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind," which features tasty guitar work from Larry Koonse. Dankworth's "Dunsinane Blues" is an azure head-tilter with Shulman and pianist Collela soulful. The ballad "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day" is a textured, dramatic highlight on which Shulman and all shine bright.
A challenge which is met exceptionally well here is Shulman's vocal approach to the 16th century lyric. Her voice is very attractive and swinging. The manner in which she caresses the lyrics is exceptional.
Dankworth's "Who Is Sylvia?" is an inquisitive, theatrical Laboriel/Shulman duo. His "You Spotted Snakes" is darker fare with tasty ensemble backing. "When to the Sessions of Sweet Silent Thought," a Colella original, is an introspective piano/vocal duet. Arthur Young's, "Sigh No More Ladies" is a bossa nova swinger with a fine Bob McChesney trombone solo and "Oh, Mistress Mine" is delivered in a lilting swing-groove with Shulman's ace piping and another fine McChesney ride. Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's "My Love Is a Fever" and the swinging "Take All My Loves" were also recorded by Dankworth and Lane and are given a fine fresh coat here.
Although the lingo served here is near a half-millennium old, Shulman and her team make this rendering as delicious as fresh-baked Elizabethan pie. Go ahead and pull out a plum.
All the World's a Stage/If Music Is The Food of Love; Blow Blow Thou Winter Wind; Dunsinane
Blues; Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day; Who Is Sylvia? You Spotted Snakes; When to the
Sessions of Sweet Silent Thought; Sigh No More Ladies; Oh Mistress Mine; My Love Is as a Fever;
Take All My Loves; Our Revels Now Are Ended.
Deborah Shulman: vocals; Jeff Colella, piano; Larry Koonse: guitar; Abraham Laboriel: bass
(1, 3, 5, 10, 11); Chris Colangelo: bass (2-4, 6, 7, 12); Bob Sheppard: flute, clarinet, soprano sax, bass
clarinet; Bob McChesney: trombone; Kendall Kay: drums (2, 3 ,6, 9, 12); Joe LaBarbera: drums (1, 8, 10, 11).
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