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5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant "tribute" album to Duke. Most enjoyable album., 27 July 2014
This review is from: Harlem Airshaft - The Music of Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn (Audio CD)
I am both a devotee of "the Duke" and Mr Barnes so when I was made aware of the CD I was very excited by the prospect, and certainly was not disappointed with the final result. Furthermore I recall seeing the band in concert giving this programme. How wonderful to see Tony Coe again, and how well he plays on this album. Of course a mere glance at the personnel tells one that this is no casual pick up band. We have the "creme" of musicians here led by the impeccable Alan Barnes.

The arrangements are by Tony Faulkner, who presumably was heavily involved with the selection of the tunes. With hundreds of tunes to choose from, whittling the choice down to a dozen must have been in itself a nightmare. I have a good knowledge of Ellington's compositions but the choice has included some rather obscure tunes that I hadn't heard before. However there is a good number of well known tunes too.

Played by an octet it wouldn't have been possible to merely recreate the "Ellington sound" and what would have been the point? Instead we hear these samples of Ellingtonia recreated in a new situation. The music remains "conventional jazz", no whistles or bells! Just great mainstream jazz played by eight skilful musicians. Music to be enjoyed.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Happy-go-lucky local band, 1 Jan 2014
N. Jones "Nic The Pen" (Oxford, Great Britain) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Harlem Airshaft - The Music of Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn (Audio CD)
The Duke Ellington canon is so deep that the obvious songs can be easily avoided, and this is largely the case here in a programme of Ellingtonia played by a crack band of British musicians who obviously know the Duke's music inside out.

In a lot of cases such thorough knowledge might make for a certain reverence that lessens the chances of anything distinctive being made of the music. Happily this isn't the case here, and in Tony Coe there's at least one musician present who would have slotted right in with the Ellington band in its prime, perhaps -to dwell for a moment in the counter-factual- as a replacement for Paul Gonsalves.

"Snibor" is in fact a Billy Strayhorn composition, but as any informed reader will know the distance between Ellington and Strayhorn was never great. After trombonist Andy Wood's lengthy solo, which has about it little of, say, Lawrence Brown, Coe on tenor sax brings his personal vocabulary to bear in a manner that reinforces the point I make above.

A cursory check of my not modest collection of Ellington's music didn't throw up an `original' version of "Sunswept Sunday", although it might be true to say that any such version might have consisted of radically different colours to the ones found here, especially as Coe on clarinet most uncommonly suggests a link between Ellington and Claude Debussy.

Tony Faulkner's arrangement of "Brown Penny" hints at the original only in the last four bars. The same is true of Barnes's alto sax playing in relation to that of Johnny Hodges, arguably one of the most inimitable musicians in the whole of jazz. Barnes evidently knows this, but in being himself throughout this feature for him he evokes the Hodges in a manner which few others could.

Anyone looking for radical reworkings of Ellingtonia needs to look elsewhere, but that lack of radical moves is no criticism, for this is a programme put together with love that never teeters over into awestruck reverence, shot through with attention to detail that's far from common.
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