DUKE ELLINGTON: Mainly Black: Black, Brown and Beige (suite); Take the “A” Train; Sophisticated Lady; Harlem; Isfahan – EMI Classics

by | Dec 15, 2010 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

DUKE ELLINGTON:  Mainly Black: Black, Brown and Beige (suite); Take the “A” Train; Sophisticated Lady; Harlem; Isfahan – EMI Classics (1999) 6 41119 2, 73:26 *****:

(Performers incl. Lena Horne; Clark Terry, Simon Gardner, John Barclay – trumpets; Bobby Watson – also sax; Joshua Redman & Joe Lovano – tenor sax; Regina Carter, violin; Geri Allen, piano; Lewis Nash, drums; Peter Washington & Mark Goodchild, doublebass; Peter Walden, English horn; City of Birmingham Sym. Orch./ Sir Simon Rattle; Nigel Kennedy, guest violinist; Alec Dankworth, guest bassist)

Ellington intended his Black, Brown and Beige Suite to be performed in its entirety, but due to the many racial barriers of the time that only occurred at its premiere and then was not heard until recently. Luther Henderson created the fine arrangements for the four straight Ellington pieces on this concert, which was recorded in 1999 in the Birmingham, England Symphony Hall. The Mainly Black suite was a creation of Nigel Kennedy for a concert in 1968. Since Ellington himself had cut down parts of his original suite to six shorter selections, Kennedy felt he could make his own version as well, and did. The five sections still end in the glorious “Come Sunday,” which was sung in the original by Mahalia Jackson and is sung here by Lena Horne.

Rattle is just as flexible a conductor in differing repertory as are Michael Tilson Thomas and several others who move with ease from Wagner or the heaviest contemporary scores to Broadway or jazz-influenced materials such as this. Sonics are fine.  This is an excellent addition to EMI’s ”American Classics” series.

— John Sunier

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