Echoes Of Ellington Jazz Orchestra

Jazz Planets

(Right Track Records)

The Echoes of Ellington Jazz Orchestra is under the direction of Peter Long and the subtitle of this release is A Tribute To Gustav Holst and Duke Ellington.

Ellington was a prince of ensemble melody and master assembler of stellar lineups. In a way the scene for this new Holst-based release was Duke’s own rather brave album Far East Suite which took his lively band sound out of the American comfort zone into global timbres, giving the players fresh backdrops to explore. In the jazz field this was an important a venture as Sly Stone’s There’s A Riot Going On, as someone like Long will doubtless comprehend. Everything starts with an idea, so this project is intriguing to say the least. Jimi Hendrix passed far too young, but was talking to Gil Evans about adventures close to this using his own sense of dynamics, David Axelrod displays similar visions in his series of recordings.

The players here show a deep love for the fluid depth attained by the original Ellington band members, many of whom went on to gain their own star status. Over-discipline will expunge any warmth, something that Peter Long seems to be aware of. Some of the arrangements are better than others but that is inevitable.

Opener Blues In Orbit has a stealthy bass-led ambience, a twinkle of piano motifs over the sombre tempo. Then the slivers of reeds and brass, a trombone seeping to the fore after a minute and a half, the phrasing languid and deftly muted to give a very human…somewhere between Dinah Washington and the Cadbury’s Smash robots of yore ! It all exudes a tempered confidence and somewhere The Duke sis back and smiles. On to the lively intro to Mercury, pacy and hued in dark blue. The Winged Messenger, indeed. The drumming is straight off any Ellington recording, nimble and emphatic. If any of these words seem high-falutin’ rest assured they are only to reflect the sophistication pouring from the speakers, drawing the listener in… The liquid trumpet riffing here is verging on joyous.

Next up we have Venus, Bringer Of Peace. Brought in by the wah brass, the tempo calm and reflective, the piano trills kept light. The melody is kept regal and sensual and a picture of a silver-foil-clad couple dancing is hard to erase. An airy sax excursion maintains the ambience. Then Mars – much favoured by certain rock and fusion acts but here the original melody is exploited for all its clandestine content over what might be bits of rhumba, the brass clucks away, the drums hint at the martial but @ 1:28 the ensemble starts a shadowy swing passage, with wild blue notes over the determined march of the ensemble. The Bringer Of War and an undercurrent of menace. The full blooded coda rolls into staccato mode and you almost expect a switch into Whatever Lola Wants. Next The Asteroids which hops into a brisk trippy, cartoonish setting with the familiar theme taken by sax and trombone, the ghost of Tubby Hayes in the melee, I swear. No stopping that drummer here! It’s busy, syncopated, full of stabs and surges, relentless drive shown.

Jupiter commences as maybe the best cut on this collection, tumbling into a Cuban lope shot through with brass fireworks and Zappa-toned saxes. Suddenly a walking blues beat takes over and a nightclub buzz dominates. It’s clever, it holds the attention. Back to the spikier tempo. But the melody is oozed out like something from the old Come Dancing (pre-Barbie and Cleopatra) with the band here a tad too restrained, perhaps. Saturn is a kind of exotic rhumba in this incarnation, with hints of Ellington’s reading of Caravan. Absolutely hypnotic, with arcane fills and phrases and then a solemn shadowy plod moves the tune along. What’s the word for this? saturnine, methinks. The bass rolls off at a tangent before the group reasserts itself with sanddance saxery. A real highlight, for this listener.

Uranus The Magician and a pastoral twilight descends, before the piano moves everything into a cymbal-splattered twitchy tempo, the brass sounding sardonic on the theme itself, followed by the piano voicing of the same. Again we are back in cartoonish territory. The arrangement then scoots close to Nelson Riddle circa Route 66 TV theme. The tempo switches and we are returned to the shadows. After which, Neptune. Or The Mystic. The piano evokes Andrew Hill of Blue Note renown, at times. The arrangement seems to not quite know where it wants to take this one. Something a touch more maritime may have suited. But @ 2:30 the work seems to lift itself up and float along, lovely to experience. Matters finish with Pluto by Billy Strayhorn, having the subtitle Le Sacre Supreme. This really swings with heart and a springheeled presence, the ensemble sounds confident and melodic. Not a bad way to see this moody assemblage of themes on its way.

Somewhat more of a treat for jazz buffs than classical fans, I venture. But to hear players this skilled let loose in fresh fields is exhilarating and Long can be proud of this.

Pete Sargeant


(Thanks to Sam G)

Echoes Of Ellington Jazz Orchestra's new album 'Jazz Planets' is released on Friday 28th September 2018 on Right Track Records.

You can pre-order the album here:

In addition, the live premier of 'Jazz Planets' will take place on Saturday 8th September 2018 at Cadogan Hall, London, United Kingdom. Tickets are on sale now and are available here:

Echoes Of Ellington Jazz Orchestra