This album is a fine example of the compositional talents of Duke Ellington and his alter ego, Billy Strayhorn. The atmosphere created by the arrangements is quite special, and certainly unique. Each track takes for inspiration a character from Shakespeare and the tunes themselves range from orchestral set pieces designed for atmosphere (Sam Woodyards drums are an education) to settings for some truely incredible solo performances, particularly from Johnny Hodges who will melt your heart with "star crossed lovers" in a performance that stamps his authority on the alto ballad.
On a more general note, I do find it frustrating to hear some jazz fans describe Ellingtons best as being over come the 1940s. This is absolutely untrue. Albums like this, along with Anatomy of a Murder, the Far East Suite and the New Orleans Suite, show how Ellington had matured as a composer and how he could write for the individual musicans in his orchestra, all of whom, when they wanted to be, were amoung the finest to play thier respective instruments.
If you have never heard this music before i think you will be suprised. If you have heard it before, this release, with its bonus tracks and informative liner notes, is certainly worth the money. Enjoy!