The ballad component of the Great American Songbook has seldom sounded better than it does on this marvelous collaboration between the superlative Dutch Jazz Orchestra and the brilliant composer / arranger Billy Strayhorn, who wrote these exquisite charts for the Duke Ellington Orchestra over two decades beginning in the early ’40s. Eight of the arrangements are presented here for the first time, with four others preserved solely on hard-to-find radio broadcasts, and only two “Where or When” and “Lover Man” ever recorded commercially, the last in an abridged form. The most recent, a delightfully brisk cruise along Henry Mancini’s “Moon River,” dates from around 1962, five years before Strayhorn’s death at age fifty–one. “Where or When” and “Lover Man” are sung by Marjorie Barnes, as are Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark” and Jerome Kern’s “Yesterdays.” Nothing is said about Barnes in the liner notes, but if she’s not an American living in the Netherlands she fashions one of the most remarkable impressions of one I’ve ever heard.
The DJO is loaded with world-class soloists, several of whom flugel Ack van Rooyen (“Moon River,” “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man”), clarinetist John Ruocco (“Ghost of a Chance,” “I’ve Got the World on a String”), tenor Toon Roos (“I’ll Remember April”), alto Albert Beltman (“Night and Day”), baritone Nils van Haften (“I’ll Buy That Dream”), pianist Rob van Bavel (“You Go to My Head”) are showcased on the various instrumentals. Van Rooyen escorts Ruocco on “Autumn in New York,” trombonist Martijn Sohier on “The Man I Love,” while Roos adds shapely commentary on three of the four vocal tracks. Strayhorn was nearly as prolific as he was gifted, and close to six hundred of his elegant arrangements survive. Thanks to the DJO and Strayhorn scholar Walter van de Leur, at least some of them are now accessible in state-of-the-art digital sound. This is the second DJO / Strayhorn album I’ve heard (the other is Portrait of a Silk Thread, Dutch Jazz 95001). Challenge Records has apparently produced two others, So This Is Love (CHR 70091) and Something to Live For (CHR 70092). If they are anywhere near as grand and rewarding as You Go to My Head, they're worth your attention.
Contact: Challenge Record Services, P. O. Box 540, 6800 AM Arnhem, The Netherlands ( www.challenge.nl ); Allegro Music, 14134 NE Airport Way, Portland, OR 97230–3443; 800–288–2007; e–mail mailcs@allegro–music.com