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Marsalis, Delfeayo: Sweet Thunder

In 1957 Duke Ellington and his big band orchestra, along with cowriter Billy Strayhorn released Such Sweet Thunder, his fitting tribute to William Shakespeare. The album focused on some of the Bard's most famous characters and I am sure it was an ambitious undertaking. It is a highly regarded album in jazz circles, some even claim it to be the best jazz album of all time.

Delfeayo Marsalis' latest is a reworking of the Duke's seminal piece entitled Sweet Thunder. Instead of a big band, Marsalis has pared it down to an octet of musicians, all virtuosos in their own right. It is an equally ambitious undertaking and to reinvent such a highly regarded album must not have been an easy task. Having never heard the original this review can only focus on Sweet Thunder as no comparisons can be made.

There is no denying the quality of musicianship on display throughout Sweet Thunder. The players do a fabulous job constructing a jazz album that is both melodic and discordant. It is a very complex piece so do not expect to grasp all its fruits in one sitting; numerous listens are mandatory. The solos sprinkled throughout are wonderful and Marsalis let's all the players shine and no one musician hogs the spotlight.

"Such Sweet Thunder" starts the album with sprinklings of piano, swinging woodwinds and a blues laden groove. On the riveting "Sonnet for Sister Kate" Delfeayo's muted trombone and its 'wah-wah' sound is a highlight along with Jason Marshall's deep bass clarinet notes ending the tune in fine style. In the uplifting "Sonnet to Hank Cinq", tenor, alto and baritone clarinets provide some great soloing alongside David Pulphus' sinuous bass lines. With "Half the Fun", Branford Marsalis' soprano sax solo exudes an Eastern mystique while trumpet player Tiger Okoshi's delivery is slow and languid. The background soundscape intensifies as the sax solo takes shape building into a cacophony of sound. With the aptly titled "Madness in Great Ones", the contrast between Delfeayo's melodic trombone and Victor Goine's wildly erratic sopranino sax adds another dimension while in "Up and Down, Up and Down", the character of Puck is brought forth in a lighter, more uplifting tune.

"Star Crossed Lovers", a homage to Romeo and Juliet, is probably the CDs most poignant moment with its stirring melody of piano and trombone whereas the intense "Sonnet in Search of A Moor" features the explosive drumming of Jason Marsalis and Victor Atkins' serene piano work.

It is easy to hear just how much care Mr. Marsalis put into Sweet Thunder. His attention to detail in both the music and the overall package is striking and his ensemble plays beautifully throughout. Highly recommended and a well-earned four stars.

Track Listing:
1. Such Sweet Thunder (5:59)
2. Sonnet for Sister Kate (2:33)
3. Sonnet to Hank Cinq (4:47)
4. Half the Fun (9:22)
5. Up and Down, Up and Down (3:05)
6. Madness in Great Ones (5:03)
7. Star Crossed Lovers (6:24)
8. Sonnet in Search of A Moor (8:08)
9. The Telecasters (5:34)
10. Sonnet for Caesar (7:49)
11. Lady Mac (3:34)
12. Circle of Fourths (8:20)

Added: April 18th 2011
Reviewer: Jon Neudorf
Related Link: Artist's Official Site
Hits: 1731
Language: english

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