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“Heaven and Earth – A Duke Ellington Songbook” – Danielle Talamantes, sop./ Henry Dehlinger, p. – MSR

I’m tempted to say that if you buy only one disc this year, it should be this one.

“Heaven and Earth – A Duke Ellington Songbook” – Danielle Talamantes, soprano/ Henry Dehlinger, piano – MSR Jazz MS 1617, 50:47 [Distr. by Albany] *****:

Just to double check, I sought out my review of Danielle Talamantes’s debut album from 2014 on MSR Classics called Canciones espanolas. Here is what I said: “From the very first second of the very first track, Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall soloist soprano Danielle Talamantes rips into a recital of some of Spain’s greatest composers with such daring and furiously emotive singing that you hold your breath at the exuberance and seat-of-your-pants vocal dexterity coming from the speakers. Usually it takes a while for recordings to begin to make their mark, but not in this case; Talamantes besieges us with such exquisite and excitingly idiomatic vocalizing that you leave the listening session in awe.”

I hate to be repetitive and verbose, but substitute “some of Spain’s greatest composers” with “Duke Ellington”, and the paragraph retains all of its truthfulness transferred to this new release. These are, of course arrangements—Ellington left few of his piano pieces completely intact for one medium, he simple didn’t work like that. But they are stunningly superb, each and every one. In fact, I detect a couple of mistakes in regards to this new release. One is the number of reviewers’ intent on calling this a “crossover album”. MSR doesn’t help the situation much by putting this on its “Jazz” label either. Ellington would certainly have not appreciated the classification as he steadfastly resisted such categorizations.

Why does this matter? Because this is certainly, and in my mind unquestioningly, a full-fledged art song recording of one of the major art song composers in American history. It doesn’t sound like jazz, even the more familiar songs like In a Sentimental Mood and Don’t get around much anymore. Instead, these are well-executed, highly stylized renderings tinged with Ellington’s trademark harmonies and inventive melodies, sung with virtuoso perfection by one of our up-and-coming stars. I am convinced that Danielle Talamantes had to make no more stylistic transitions than she would for any other composer; Ellington is an American original like Copland, Barber, Gershwin, and Bernstein—just to list a few of our great song composers—and the care and intellect given to him demonstrates that his importance stretches far beyond the rather narrow confines of “jazz”. Indeed, his “band” music is so unlike any of the orchestras playing in his day as to defy any sort of categories.  Henry Dehlinger, the accompanist—if such a major role can be reduced to this comparatively mundane descriptor—returns from his first outing with Talamantes to do her even finer justice here. Talamantes is simply brilliant in this music, giving it a knock-your-socks-off performance that leaves you hankering for much, much more.  I am quite certain that I will return to this disc quite often, perhaps playing it in sequence with the Hermit Songs and the Twelve Songs on Poems of Emily Dickinson for contrast. Sounds like a great couple of hours to me. Formidably essential listening!

TrackList:

COME SUNDAY
Duke Ellington / Duke Ellington [arr. H. Dehlinger]
IMAGINE MY FRUSTRATION
Duke Ellington / Billy Strayhorn and Gerald Wilson [arr. H. Dehlinger]
IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD
Duke Ellington / Manny Kurtz and Irving Mills [arr. L. Ham]
DO NOTHIN’ TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME
Duke Ellington / Bob Russell [arr. L. Ham]
PRELUDE TO A KISS
Duke Ellington / Irving Gordon and Irvings Mills [arr. L. Ham]
DON’T GET AROUND MUCH ANYMORE
Duke Ellington / Bob Russell [arr. H. Dehlinger]
SOPHISTICATED LADY
Duke Ellington / Irving Mills and Mitchell Parish [arr. H. Dehlinger]
I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT
Duke Ellington, Harry James and Johnny Hodges / Don George [arr. C. Levine]
SOLITUDE
Duke Ellington / Eddie Delange and Irving Mills [arr. C. Levine]
MEDITATION (piano solo)
Duke Ellington [arr. H. Dehlinger]
HEAVEN
Duke Ellington / Duke Ellington [arr. M. Mills]
ALMIGHTY GOD HAS THOSE ANGELS
Duke Ellington / Duke Ellington [arr. H. Dehlinger]

—Steven Ritter

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