Saturday, September 24, 2011

Review of Duke Ellington, The Private Collection, Vol. 5: The Suites: New York 1968 & 1970

This long CD (over 71 minutes) is taken from Duke's capacious "vault" of recordings not released during his lifetime (d. 1974). The band would gather between gigs to rehearse new material and rework old material before taking it on the road. Duke was the producer, unlike his "official recordings." And unlike some of the other vault recordings, this has a polished and finished feel to it, rivaling that of "Such Sweet Thunder."

The first suite was composed for a film about the painting of Degas, which was never completed. However, we are graced to have the music. It is multi-layered but unified in expression. Both the ensemble work and the solos are impeccably executed. This clocks in at over twenty-minutes and is a sheer delight.

"The River," originally composed for a ballet, is the second suite is longer and much more modernist or even avant-guarde. It texture approaches chamber music at times and takes some wise chances with melody, meter, and harmony. It can swing, but not always. The "Whirlpool" movement is quite adventuresome. It startled and amazed me the first time I heard it, and continues to do so. I risk sacrilege here, but it reminds one a bit of some of Frank Zappa's best instrumental work.

A world with Duke Ellington cannot be absurd. This is a sufficient (but not necessary) condition for defeating nihilism. This work is objectively beautiful; created by a great soul. Therefore there is meaning and goodness in the world. Thank God.

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