Entertainment

Duke Ellington: Black, Brown and Beige

by Steven Bergman
Contributor
Monday Mar 4, 2013
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"Sophisticated Lady," "Satin Doll," and "Mood Indigo" are just three of the myriad of jazz standards that came from the pen and heart of Edward "Duke" Ellington (1899-1974). Ellington, however, was also an accomplished creator of larger scale compositions, and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of JoAnn Falletta, has recorded a set of several of these works, and the result is a powerhouse set from an under-recognized orchestral composer.

"Black, Brown, and Beige," the title of the recording, is the musical anchor of this release. Originally premiered in 1943, Ellington re-arranged the fifty-minute, three movement work and created the "suite" that is presented here. With each part of the piece representing an aspect of African-American culture (faith in prayer, the soldiers who died fighting for our country, and the 1920’s Renaissance in African-American music), Maurice Peress’ orchestration of the trilogy creates a quality rendering into the musical influences of Ellington, as well as a look at those white composers who were listening to his music, including George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein.

"The River: Suite" was written in 1970, and shows off the diversity of the orchestra, that handles all five movements with style and groove. "Three Black Kings," a ballet that was completed by Duke’s son, Mercer Ellington, after his father’s death, features the skillful Sal Andolina on both clarinet and alto saxophone. The finale of this disc is probably Ellington’s most well-known piece: his arrangment of Billy Strayhorn’s "Take the ’A’ Train." The orchestra is clearly enjoying its detour into the jazz world, which includes some wonderful thematic surprises during the individual solos presented in the piece.

"Duke Ellington: Black, Brown, and Beige"
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra / JoAnn Falletta
CD and digital formats
Naxos Recordings

Steven Bergman is a Composer / Playwright / Performing Arts Educator based outside of Boston, MA.

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