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Ellington: Black, Brown & Beige / Falletta, Buffalo Philharmonic

Release Date: 02/26/2013 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559737   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Edward "Duke" EllingtonBilly Strayhorn
Conductor:  JoAnn Falletta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 18 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

What with the dodgy availability of Mauric Peress’ benchmark Musicmasters Ellington recordings, we badly needed a top-notch survey of Ellington’s orchestral music, and this inspiring disc fits the bill perfectly. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic have yet to make a finer record. The program offers a characterful overview of Ellington’s entire career, from the very last piece he wrote (the Three Black Kings ballet, completed by his son Mercer), taking in the sexy tone poem Harlem (first sound clip), suites from The River (another ballet) and Black, Brown, and Beige, and concluding with Ellington’s arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s classic Take the ‘A’
Read more Train.

Now for you mass transit fans, and since I happen to live on the ‘A’ line, the ‘A’ train was originally part of the old Independent Subway, one of the three companies that merged in the 1940s to form the current New York City transit system. The Independent, or IND, has lines using the letters A-G; the BMT (Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit) has letters J-S, while the original subway, the IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit) has all the numbered lines. Today the ‘A’ train is noteworthy both for being the longest line in the entire subway system, running from the tip of Manhattan through Brooklyn to Far Rockaway, Queens, and also the train to Kennedy Airport. But back in 1939 it was important because it connected the two largest African-American communities in New York: Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, hence Strayhorn’s choice of the ‘A’ for his famous tune.

Whenever I listen to these masterful pieces I can’t help but recall Bruno Walter’s castigation of jazz as embodying all that was sick and decadent in music, a sympathy shared by many “classical” composers and performers of an especially Germanic bent. Tubin’s Sixth Symphony cleverly takes jazz as the “embodiment of evil,” for example, in its wicked central scherzo. How anyone can actually listen to Ellington’s work and maintain that position is completely baffling. The concluding movement of Three Black Kings, a tribute to Martin Luther King, is one of the most uplifting, indeed transcendent, pieces of 20th century music (second sound clip)–an approaching and receding procession saturated with the sounds of spirituals and decorated by the ecstatic riffing of a solo clarinet.

The performances are just marvelous. JoAnn Falletta catches the music’s “swing” in vivid interpretations that challenge Peress in their vitality, color, and verve. The various instrumental soloists, especially Sal Andolina’s clarinet in Three Black Kings and Tony Di Lorenzo on trumpet in Take the ‘A’ Train (and elsewhere), are all brilliant, and captured by Naxos’ engineers in bright, natural, high-impact sound. This is a very necessary release, but one that should get a lot of play as well. It’s a joy.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

Three Black Kings by Edward "Duke" Ellington
Conductor:  JoAnn Falletta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
The River: Suite by Edward "Duke" Ellington
Conductor:  JoAnn Falletta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1970; USA 
Harlem by Edward "Duke" Ellington
Conductor:  JoAnn Falletta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1950; USA 
Black, Brown and Beige Suite by Edward "Duke" Ellington
Conductor:  JoAnn Falletta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1943; New York, USA 
Take the "A" train by Billy Strayhorn
Conductor:  JoAnn Falletta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1941; USA 
Notes: Arrangement: Duke Ellington 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  3 Customer Reviews )
 Nice recording of rare work June 1, 2015 By David R. (Denver, CO) See All My Reviews "Heard "Three Black Kings" at the Denver Philharmonic a few months ago and had to find a recording. It was fantastic live and this album does it justice, along with more symphonic material from Ellington. One quibble: the volume is uneven, and I found myself diving for the volume control often as a softer string section ended and the full brass came back in. Otherwise, a great recording of rare work." Report Abuse
 Found a treasure February 25, 2014 By Ray E. (Denver, CO) See All My Reviews "Duke Ellington's Black, Brown, and Beige was a great find for us Jazz lovers here in Denver. The work being brand new to us in this household, it is an instant hit and getting a lot of play. We knew that JoAnn Falletta was now the conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. She was popular as a conductor here in Colorado also and one of the earlier female orchestra leaders in the U.S.A." Report Abuse
 World Class Recording!! May 23, 2013 By Henry S. (Springfield, VA) See All My Reviews "Verbal superlatives hardly do justice to this sensational new Naxos disk containing orchestral works by American jazz/big band legend Duke Ellington. Ellington's remarkable versatility and flexibility throughout decades of compositonal excellence are clearly evident in this program, featuring the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Joanne Falletta. Other recordings of orchestrated Ellington compositions can be found, but this new releae is a legitimate show-stopper, of which even Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops in their prime would have been proud. Some purists might insist that the interaction of jazz-inspired writing and a full symphony orchestra produces an awkward and overly bombastic product best left to jazz combos or traditional 1930's/1040's swing bands. Maybe, but my response to that is 'Nonsense!' Duke Ellington's music has never sounded so expansive, powerful, and downright appealing. To see what I mean, just turn on the last track and turn up the volume to hear 'Take the A Train' as you've never heard it before; or how about the boisterous, blackbuster rendition of 'Black, Brown, and Beige.' The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra clearly had a great time making this recording, and the result is a sound that is as close to audiophile demonstration quality as anything I've heard recently. Only the most stodgy reactionary wedded to the classical past could find fault with this artistically satisfying and viscerally exciting recording. I think it belongs in the collection of anyone who values uniquely American concert music. With this release, Naxos has given us a true 'classic' in every sense of the word. Absolutely recommended!" Report Abuse
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