Black, Brown, and Beige/Ellington

March 19, 2013



Naxos Featured Recording of the Month

Gershwin and Shostakovich weren’t the only composers in the 20th Century who could write in the symphonic jazz genre. Let’s add the name of Duke Ellington (1899-1974) to the list whose compositions compiled by Naxos on this CD reveal some of the best American compositions ever in the genre. Ellington was quite taken with the American folksongs and incorporated symphonic, jazz, and his roots from Harlem in a wide range of subject material ranging from Harlem night life, to the river, to religious material, to the war effort, quite an achievement whose name is also associated with some of the best swing band material ever. He was certainly quite the versatile talent.

HARLEM (1950): Sub-titled A Tone Parallel to Harlem is a raucous, bluesy, depiction of the night life in the center of jazz in New York “The Cotton Club” in Harlem. The suite is filled with wonderful brass statements from trumpets and trombones, a pulse pounding percussion solo, sax solos, all mixed together with ample support from the strings and reeds. Listen for a reference to the ‘A’ Train.  The fourteen minute work arranged by Maurice Peress passes very quickly. If you like your jazz on the loud side this will certainly fit the bill.

BLACK, BROWN, AND BEIGE-SUITE (1943): tells the story of the Negro and his religious beliefs, his participation in war, and the gin mills and lonely life of the single drinker. Black is somewhat built around the tune Come Sunday and features some nice brass work. Brown incorporates some of the classic Americana tunes such as “Swanee River,” “Yankee Doodle,” and “The Girl I Left Behind” in a somber setting. Beige offers some really loud brass statements as it makes reference to the Charleston as well as returning to restate the theme from Black.



Completed by his son after his death, the ballet of three parts each representing a king (Balthazar, Solomon, and Martin Luther) offers three different styles of music. The first movement features the xylophone quickly followed by bongos, drums, piano, strings and finally brass which is repeated with intervals of lush strings and brass intertwined. Solomon begins with a romantic violin and harp followed by an oboe offering before tempo and style change to a big band dance style with smooth brass and woodwinds complimented by pizzicato from the strings. A nice alto sax solo from Sal Andolina adds to the movement nicely.  Martin Luther King, the final movement, depicts a dirge written in a bluesy style with clarinet taking front and center. The brass also takes their turn with wonderful harmony that enhances Andolina’s exquisite solo.

THE RIVER-SUITE (1970): Orchestrated by Ron Collier the five movement suite begins with the oboe in a tranquil style complemented by flute and harp. “The Meander” begins quiet enough but quickly turns into a bluesy swaggering type of jazz before ending as it began with the flute. “The Giggling Rapids” begins with solo piano as many Ellington compositions but it isn’t long before the brass take over in a raucous style offering the melody as well as wonderful harmony. The brass section of the Buffalo Philharmonic really shines on this track. I’m including an audio clip to give you an idea of what I’m talking about. giggling rapids “The Lake” begins quietly begins with the oboe and clarinet depicting the sound of a slow moving tranquil setting. “The River,” the finale is a rockem sockem that builds to a climax that will bring the house down and then ends quietly as it began.

TAKE THE ‘A’ TRAIN (1939):  I’ve had the privilege of hearing many versions of this ever popular tune (still sounds fresh) but this six minute version is right at the top of my favorites with Lalo Schifrin, Erich Kunzel, and the Boston Pops. There are some nice riffs from the sax, trumpet, fiddle, and drums. I like how the arrangement ends with a statement from all the soloists, nice touch.

This recording comes with my highest recommendation and should be a part of your collection.

NAXOS 8.559737

JoAnn Falletta conducts the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

Track Listing:

1… Harlem (14:27)

Black, Brown, and Beige-Suite

2… Black (8:25)

3… Brown (5:26)

4… Beige (4:38)

Three Black Kings-Ballet

5… King of the Magi (4:44)

6… King Solomon (6:27)

7… Martin Luther King (6:59)

The River-Suite

8… The Spring (3:30)

9… The Meander (3:57)

10. The Giggling Rapids (3:00)

11. The Lake (7:18)

12. The River (3:19)

13. Take the ‘A’ Train (6:19)

Total Time is 78:30









One Response to “Black, Brown, and Beige/Ellington”

  1. Martijn Says:

    I don’t know the orchestra or the conductor, but it looks like a *fine* album.

    I’m just not to sure about the inclusion of Take The A Train, which seems a bit too easy: it is THE perennial Duke Ellington crowd pleaser, and thus seems a bit out of place here. But it’s a CD that would definitely get a few spins from me!

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