Friday, June 10, 2011

Delfeayo Marsalis: Sweet Thunder

Troubadour Jass Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Sweet Thunder

Trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis brought along some family members for this album: brothers Branford on sax and Jason on drums and vibes. They’re joined by 11 additional artists.

After a series of concerts back in the day — sponsored by the Stratford, Ontario, Shakespeare Festival — Duke Ellington and compatriot Billy Strayhorn (both Shakespeare fans) wrote the jazz suite “Such Sweet Thunder.” It was recorded in 1957 by Columbia Records. That album release set the music world on fire, and is considered by many to be Ellington’s masterwork.

Delfeayo Marsalis, also a lover of The Bard, has updated and arranged that manuscript for an octet format, rather than a full orchestra. The original 12 tracks have been retained, though their order has been modified.

Delfeayo, who earned a master’s degree in jazz performance at the University of Louisville, also studied literature at the master’s level at the University of New Orleans. His thesis related Ellington to Shakespeare, and was a catalyst in his decision to take a fresh look at Ellington’s manuscript. Marsalis accomplished that marvelously.

The musical genres here run the gamut, from early Ellington through his big band years, and on to what many refer to as his “classical jazz” period. The condensed orchestration doesn’t have the power of a full band, but does provide for more interesting solo work by the artists.

This is relatively complex stuff, with meter and chord changes galore. It may not be your cup of tea, but regardless of such feelings, you can’t help admiring what Ellington, Strayhorn and now Delfeayo Marsalis have accomplished.

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