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ELLINGTON, D.: Black, Brown and Beige / Harlem / Three Black Kings / The River Suite (Buffalo Philharmonic, Falletta)

Naxos 8.559737, November 2014
   PS Tracks, October 2013
   Fanfare, July 2013
   BBC Music Magazine, July 2013
   Listen: Life with Classical Music, June 2013
   The Flip Side, May 2013
   Audio Video Club of Atlanta, May 2013, April 2013
   International Record Review, April 2013
   Scene Magazine, March 2013
   Cinemusical, March 2013
   Film Music: The Neglected Art, March 2013
   Audiophile Audition, March 2013
   EDGE on the Net, March 2013, March 2013, February 2013
   MusicWeb International, February 2013
   The Buffalo News, February 2013
   David's Review Corner, February 2013

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Robert Benson, November 2014

JoAnn Falletta and her Buffalodians give fine readings in great sound. They actually swing without sounding like stiffs. © 2014 Read complete review

Lawrence Schenbeck
PS Tracks, October 2013

The Buffalonians give spicy, committed performances of these oft-recorded works, and the sound is vibrantly full. © 2013 PS Tracks Read complete review

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, July 2013

I can…attest that this performance of Harlem comes very close to Duke’s own and that this later revision of Black, Brown & Beige works much better than the original. This disc is not only a keeper, but a fantastic introduction to Ellington’s sound world…And to JoAnn Falletta, you go, girl! Give us another disc like this! © 2013 Fanfare Read complete review

Geoffrey Smith
BBC Music Magazine, July 2013

…this new set of Ellington compositions by JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic shows the ducal legacy right at home in the concert hall.

While arranged for symphony orchestra by other hands, the pieces all display Ellington’s genius for captivating melodies, dramatic effect and surging energy. The Buffalo forces deliver his portrait of Harlem with bounce and brio… Similarly, his magnum opus Black, Brown and Beige shines in its orchestral setting, even without such legendary solo voices as altoist Johnny Hodges. © BBC Music Magazine

Bradley Bambarger
Listen: Life with Classical Music, June 2013

This album looks beyond Duke Ellington’s big-band masterpieces to his more rarely heard scores arranged for full orchestra, conducted by JoAnn Falleta. The taster suite here if Black, Brown & Beige—Ellington’s epic midcentury tone poem on the African-American experience—has its charms. Toscanini commissioned the “tone parallel” Harlem, orchestrated by Maurice Peress; this raucous cousin to Rhapsody in Blue fizzes. Especially valuable is The River, a 1970 score for Alvin Ailey brimming with suave, soulful melodies ballet score, Three Black Kings, unfinished at his death, but his son, Mercer, put the finishing touches on it. The Ellington band’s theme song, “Take the ‘A’ Train,” appears as a coda—lush and performed with irresistible verve. © 2013 Listen: Life with Classical Music

Kevin Filipski
The Flip Side, May 2013

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra…has, under music director Joann Falletta, become a big-league ensemble that can even swing, as this enjoyable disc of big-band works by Duke Ellington shows. © The Flip Side Read complete review

Phil Muse
Audio Video Club of Atlanta, May 2013

JoAnn Falletta directs the Buffalo Philharmonic in a Duke Ellington program that pays eloquent tribute to the composer without sounding either like Preservation Hall jazz or else a classical orchestra trying hopelessly to “get that swing.” That’s not easy to do. To get it right, the Buffalo musicians have gone beyond historical research to the point where they’ve assimilated the classic Ellington style and made it their own.

We hear this distinctive sound early-on in “Harlem,”…Emotive effects like the earthy growling brass and the insistent beat of the drums create lots of color and excitement at the close.

…we have Duke Ellington’s famous arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the A train,” a jazz standard that will never grow old. It’s a great way to end an enjoyable CD. © 2013 Audio Video Club of Atlanta Read complete review

David Hurwitz, April 2013

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 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. © 2013 Read complete review

Michael Round
International Record Review, April 2013

The superb recording, here and throughout, accommodates everything from solo harp to big-band wall of sound…Buffalo’s brass are magnificent…

…I recommend it most highly… © 2013 International Record Review

Chris Morgan
Scene Magazine, March 2013

This recent release from Naxos brings together a dozen of the 1000+ compositions that the prolific Ellington wrote during his 50 year career, providing an excellent cross-section for the casual fan, as well as the serious student of his music. Among the standout tracks, the third movement of Ellington’s unfinished ballet masterpiece, ‘Les Trois Rois Noirs’ or ‘Three Black Kings’ is particularly evocative. In addition, the effectiveness of the piece is due in no small part to the accomplished soloing of clarinetist Sal Andolina, whose lyrical performance imbues Les Trois Rois Noirs with verve and vital personality. © 2013 Scene Magazine Read complete review

Cinemusical, March 2013

Erich Kunzel recorded some of Ellington’s work…Simon Rattle also recorded Harlem…but this new Naxos album in many ways surpasses them both with great sound and committed performances and coupled with even rarer Ellington orchestral treasures that…will certainly delight fans of orchestral jazz music. JoAnn Falletta continues to make some of the best recordings in the Naxos catalogue of which this will certainly be considered a classic. Highly Recommended. © 2013 Cinemusical Read complete review

Film Music: The Neglected Art, March 2013

The [Harlem] 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.

The first movement [of Three Black Kings] 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. The brass also takes their turn with wonderful harmony that enhances Andolina’s exquisite solo.

This recording comes with my highest recommendation and should be a part of your collection. © 2013 Film Music: The Neglected Art Read complete review

John Sunier
Audiophile Audition, March 2013

These recordings, just made last May in Buffalo, bring across Ellington’s music so well that one can agree with those critics who classify Ellington as one of America’s greatest composers ever. © Audiophile Audition Read complete review

Steven Bergman
EDGE on the Net, March 2013

…a powerhouse set from un under-recognized orchestral composer.

“Black, Brown, and Beige,” the title of the recording, is the musical anchor of this release. Originally premiered in 1943, Ellington re-arranged the fifty-minute, three movement work and created the “suite” that is presented here. With each part of the piece representing an aspect of African-American culture (faith in prayer, the soldiers who died fighting for our country, and the 1920’s Renaissance in African-American music), Maurice Peress’ orchestration of the trilogy creates a quality rendering into the musical influences of Ellington, as well as a look at those white composers who were listening to his music, including George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein.

“The River: Suite” was written in 1970, and shows off the diversity of the orchestra, that handles all five movements with style and groove. “Three Black Kings,” a ballet that was completed by Duke’s son, Mercer Ellington, after his father’s death, features the skillful Sal Andolina on both clarinet and alto saxophone. The finale of this disc is probably Ellington’s most well-known piece: his arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train.” The orchestra is clearly enjoying its detour into the jazz world, which includes some wonderful thematic surprises during the individual solos presented in the piece. © EDGE on the Net

James Manheim, March 2013

…the Buffalo Symphony Orchestra under JoAnn Falletta is filled with musicians with plenty of experience in performing jazz, and this release is nowhere less than enjoyable. Recording the orchestra in its Buffalo home of Kleinhans Music Hall, Naxos achieves idiomatic sound. Recommended for Ellington lovers, especially those interested in the later part of his career. © 2013 Read complete review, February 2013

Harlem…is as bouncy and bright as can be, while Black, Brown, and Beige…is more subdued and heartfelt…The River[’s]five evocative movements…filter the longtime musical preoccupation with tonal portraits of water through a strong jazz sensibility that flows very well indeed. And the ballet Three Black Kings…is inventive and eminently danceable…Falletta is an enthusiast where American music is concerned, and she inevitably brings attentiveness and a fine sense of pacing to it—as she does here. The surprise on this CD is the discovery of just how good Ellington’s music sounds when dressed for the concert hall. © 2013 Read complete review

Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, February 2013

Harlem is sub-titled A Tone Parallel to Harlem. It’s a work blessed with a mercurial wealth of ideas smoothly and kaleidoscopically varied. The versatile Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and JoAnn Falletta have no blushes and only confidence for its big-band jazzy jolt. The brass and percussion in particular play it down and dirty with total conviction as in the smokily delivered up-swelling at 8:33 in Harlem.

The Black, Brown, and Beige suite swings, sashays and smooches moodily in the two outer movements, which occasionally can be heard casting sideway glances at Gershwin.

Three Black Kings deploys railroad rhythm excitement in King of the Magi, more dank Delian bluesiness and sighing romance in King Solomon and deep affection in the extremely likeable Martin Luther King movement.

Take the ‘A’ Train was Ellington’s signature number. It is incurably up-beat and street-confident. That’s what it gets from Buffalo and Falletta. The extended violin solo from Amy Licata is worthy of Grappelli.

A vital and very generous collection showcasing a concert Ellington who loved his commercial roots yet had more to give and gave it. © 2013 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Jeff Simon
The Buffalo News, February 2013

Here we have, performed by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by JoAnn Falletta, about as good a version of Duke’s “Black, Brown and Beige” and other major bits of Ellingtonia as you’re ever likely to hear from a symphony orchestra. Listen to the BPO’s percussionists doing what they do to conclude Ellington’s “Harlem” from 1950.

A fine celebration of Ellington by Falletta and the BPO with solos by Sal Andolina and Tony DiLorenzo. © 2013 The Buffalo News Read complete review

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2013

Edward Kennedy Ellington was born to a working class family living in Washington, and later given the name ‘Duke’ as he became one of the legendary jazz musicians. He was to literally write thousands of pieces in many genres, but was most at home working in jazz clubs, his roots always in the nightlife of New York’s Harlem  that he pictured in the disc’s opening track. The three sections of Black, Brown and Beige, were oblique references to the coloured population of North America, the present release containing a short suite from a much longer work premiered in 1943. Three Black Kings - King of the Magi, King Solomon and Martin Luther King, was Ellington’s last composition (the date of 1943 shown on the disc sleeve has to be wrong), and was completed by his son, Mercer. Intended as a ballet, in classical terms it is the disc’s most innovative work, the rhythmically catchy opening movement gives way to a smoochy King Solomon and his dancing girls. Finally a quasi-dirge in memory of the black activist Martin Luther King. Taken from a complete ballet, The River presents five very differing pictures of the great Mississippi. Ellington provided the tunes, but others had the hard work of clothing them in an orchestral garb, the most interesting work coming from Ron Collier, who produced a colourful score for the great river, skilfully orchestrated in a Hollywood movie style. Finally the melody by which the ‘Duke’ was best known, Strayhorn’s Take the ‘A’ Train. The Buffalo Philharmonic, and their conductor, JoAnn Falletta, are highly persuasive in recreating this light and often jazzy music recorded in a sound quality to match. © 2013 David’s Review Corner

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