Delfeayo Marsalis – Sweet Thunder – Troubador Jass Records TJRO92110,
(Delfeayo Marsalis, trombone; Branford Marsalis, soprano sax; Mark Gross, alto, soprano, and tenor sax; Jason Marshall, baritone sax and bass clarinet; Victor Goines, tenor and soprano sax; Tiger Okoshi, trumpet; Mulgrew Miller and Victor “Red” Atkins, piano; Reginald Veal and David Pulphus, bass; Winard Harper and Jason Marsalis, drums)
Written in the mid-50s by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, as a homage to William Shakespeare, as a twelve movement composition titled, Such Sweet Thunder – written for a fifteen piece orchestra – Delfeayo Marsalis has scaled down the presentation to either a quintet or octet setting.
He recruited some of the top young talent around including two of his brothers and some members of Wynton’s group, as well as veterans, Mulgrew Miller and Tiger Okoshi.
Delfeayo arranged and orchestrated all tracks and used more high range instruments than low range instruments-less brass than Ellington. Marsalis was confident enough in his finished product to include a largely dismissive letter in the liner notes from noted jazz historian and composer/arranger, Gunther Schuller, critiquing the CD and mentioning that Delfeayo omitted the vibrato that characterized Duke’s compositions from the 1930s throughout the 1960s.
As to Duke’s twelve compositions, the themes largely remain as Duke laid them out, but Marsalis’ group brings a more intimate feel with his smaller groupings.
The title track finds Branford with a sweet Ellington period soprano solo. Delfeayo’s solo has great gut bucket feel. Mulgrew Miller’s statement is spot on, and as usual I love Winard Harper’s drum work. A great opening.
Jason Marshall’s bass clarinet opens “Sonnet for Sister Kate” in a low haunting fashion and Delfeayo’s muted plunger style trombone with its “wah-wah” tone brings Duke’s trombonists’ style out with aplomb. “Sonnet to Hank Cinq” provides the tenor, alto, and baritone sax members to solo freely changing tempo. “Half the Fun” benefits from Jason Marsalis’ percussion and Branford’s Middle Eastern toned soprano. Okoshi’s trumpet phrasings are forceful. This track has a real air of mystery to it.
“Up and Down, Up and Down” provides Victor Goines the lead on soprano sax that Clark Terry had on trumpet on Duke’s version. “Madness in Great Ones” gives the entire octet an opportunity to shine as nearly every octet member solos. “Star Crossed Lovers” played tenderly with Delfeayo shining is simply gorgeous, and Mulgrew Miller proves to be the perfect accompanist for altoist, Mark Gross.
“Sonnet in Search of a Moor” finds Jason Marshall setting a gentle opening before the tempo changes and Delfeayo takes over before “Red” Atkins stirring piano run, backed ably by the rhythm section of Charnett Moffett and Jason Marsalis. “The Telecasters” has a catchy melody and again the octet gets solo space. Okoshi really steps up here. The ensemble blend is superb.
“Sonnet for Caesar” is a feature for Branford on soprano and he is more than up to the task on this ballad. “Lady Mac” begins with a church piano solo before Mark Gross on alto sax solos above the horns on this waltz time feature. “Circle of Fourths” closes out the CD on a tear with Delfeayo blowing hard as the energy level just keeps rising.
I thoroughly enjoyed Sweet Thunder and admired Delfeayo for tackling this daunting challenge – keeping Duke’s spirit with new interpretations in a smaller group setting. Superb liner notes are provided from both Delfeayo and three jazz historians to help guide listeners to understand both Ellington’s original issue and the changes Marsalis has brought to his interpretation.
TrackList: Such Sweet Thunder, Sonnet for Sister Kate, Sonnet for Hank Cinq, Half the Fun, Up and Down, Up and Down, Madness in Great Ones, Star-Crossed Lovers, Sonnet in Search of a Moor, The Telecasters, Sonnet for Caesar, Lady Mac, Circle of Fourths
– Jeff Krow