Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life (Soundtrack to the PBS Documentary) – New performances of Strayhorn works by Bill Charlap, Elvis Costello, Hank Jones, Joe Lovano & Dianne Reeves – Blue Note/EMI

by | Jan 23, 2007 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life (Soundtrack to the PBS Documentary) – New performances of Strayhorn works by Bill Charlap, Elvis Costello, Hank Jones, Joe Lovano & Dianne Reeves – Blue Note/EMI 73550, 1 hour ***** [Release date – 1/23/07]:

These are the 15 compositions by Duke Ellington’s associate which will be heard on the 90-minute documentary Lush Life – to air on PBS-TV stations February 6th.  The new performances will be featured thruout the film, which will deal with the special 29-year partnership between Ellington and the pioneering African-American composer, arranger and pianist. It will delve into some of the issues which prevented Strayhorn from getting the recognition he so fully deserved. Among other things, he was the sole composer of Ellington’s signature Take the A Train (it’s not on this disc but it’s everywhere else).

Dianne Reeves plays the most prominent musical role in the documentary, singing six Strayhorn songs – including of course the title tune, done as a duo with guitarist Russell Malone. She is also heard in the classic Something to Live For and four other songs. Pianist Charlap goes solo unaccompanied for both the opening Fantastic Rhythm and the later Valse, but my fav of the disc was his duo-piano stint with Hank Jones on the amazing Tonk. There’s also a version of this featuring Ellington and Strayhorn themselves on the two pianos, but not in the crystalline sonics of this new one.  Hank Jones is part of the quartet with saxist Lovano, with George Mraz on bass and drummer Paul Motian. Their readings of two ballads by Strayhorn are superbly moving: Chelsea Bridge and Lotus Blossom. One of the many creative contributions from Strayhorn to the Ellington band’s sound palette was the influence of classical music, and Chelsea Bridge shows clearly a Debussyian slant.

Elvis Costello is a special guest star on the project. Shortly before Strayhorn died in 1967 he wrote from his hospital bed the instrumental Blood Count.  It has been played by numerous jazz groups, but Costello wrote lyrics for it, retitling it My Flame Burns Blue.

TrackList: Fantastic Rhythm, Rain Check, Lush Life, Satin Doll, Something to Live For, Johnny Come Lately, Day Dream, Tonk, Chelsea Bridge, My Little Brown Book, Valse, My Flame Burns Blue (Blood Count), The Flowers of Love, Lotus Blossom, So This Is Love.

 – John Henry

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