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REVIEW: The Echoes of Ellington Orchestra – The Classical Duke Ellington at Cadogan Hall

The Echoes of Ellington Orchestra  The Classical Duke Ellington
(Cadogan Hall, London, 8 September 2018. Review by Peter Vacher)

In what was in so many ways a triumphant occasion, Echoes of Ellington founder and musical director Pete Long programmed his orchestra’s performances of Ellington’s timeless re-workings of the Peer Gynt and Nutcracker suites alongside his own brand-new Ducal-style re-imagining of Gustav Holst’s Planets Suite. Heady stuff, you might say. That his concept succeeded to the extent that it did is both a tribute to his determined re-visioning of Holst as well as to the brilliant execution of Duke’s scores and his by the orchestra and the star soloists selected to represent each of the planets, albeit in the guise of specific Ellingtonians. So no pressure there.

Long is loquacious, the inter-round banter sometimes surreal, but there’s no disguising his strength of purpose. Or the vital creativity that he offers as the band’s clarinet soloist. As he explained, the Ellington/Strayhorn scores had been retrieved from the Smithsonian Museum by Michael Kilpatrick and their execution was spot-on, bang in the middle of one’s minds-eye recollection of the original Ducal recordings. Rhythmically right, thanks to bassist Joe Pettitt and drummer Richard Pite, the rise and fall of the ensemble dynamics and the section blends equally impressive baritone soloist Jay Craig at their root and the many plunger-muted interjections by trombonist Chris Traves the very epitome of the Ellington sound. The ‘pep’ section of trumpeter James Davison and Ryan Quigley plus Traves on Greig’s Hall of the Mountain King with Colin Good’s Dukish piano interlude was enough to persuade this listener that this kind of replication is truly for the best. A view that pertained thereafter through the varied extracts offered from the two Ellington suites.

And so to the meat of the concert and its second half, with the London premiere of Long’s own Ellington-style jazz tribute to The Planets, this coinciding with the centenary of the Holst suite’s actual first performance. Inevitably, comparisons were suggested – made more so by his decision to open with Duke’s Blues in Orbit, ostensibly to set the planetary scene. Thereafter Holst’s eight Planets appeared in turn, each with its own character and key communicator, thus Mercury – the Winged Messenger with the singularly impressive Davison taking on the role that Clark Terry might have essayed, his flugelhorn solo a gathering of puckish phrases, darts and forays into the ether, followed by the eloquent alto of Simon Marsh as Venus – the Bringer of Peace, serene and touching ahead of the extraordinary high-note facility of youthful trumpeter Louis Dowdeswell as a truly blood-curdling Mars –the Bringer of War. Craig returned as Jupiter – the Bringer of Jollity, a distinctly Long-ish concept this one. And so it went each soloist spot-lit by and suitably Ellingtonian in their surrogate roles, Craig for Carney, Alex Garnett for Gonsalves, Andy Flaxman for Lawrence Brown, Quigley for the Cat, Good for Duke himself. As one observer put it, this programme should have been a shoo-in for the Proms. Perhaps next year? Deservedly, Long’s endeavours and those of his orchestra earned and received a standing ovation – a first at Cadogan Hall in my experience. Now let’s hear this programme reiterated far and wide.

Peter Vacher’s book Swingin’ on Central Avenue won the 2016 ARSC Best History in Jazz Music Award.

The Echoes of Ellington Jazz Orchestra 

Clarinet, MD, composer/arranger: Peter Long
Trumpets: James Davison, Ryan Quigley, Craig Wilde, Louis Dowdeswell
Trombones: Chris Traves, Andy Flaxman, Callum Au
Saxes/Winds: Paul Nathaniel, Alex Garnett, Simon Marsh, Jon Shenoy, Jay Craig
Piano: Colin Good
Bass: Joe Pettitt
Drums: Richard Pite

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