Sunday, 18 March 2012

Cordon blues

If, as Duke Ellington said, the art is in the cooking, then the new album from Laurent Mignard’s Duke Orchestra is Haute Cuisine.

As the album title implies, Ellington French Touch gathers material which has a Ducal connection to France. It is a rich harvest drawn, principally, from the mellow fruitfulness of Ellington’s late period, post Newport.

The album divides, effectively, into three acts: music composed for the film Paris Blues; music drawn from Midnight in Paris – one of the last albums Ellington completed as part of his Columbia contract and music for the stage play Turcaret. Adding spice to the dish, however, the album also includes Billy Strayhorn’s arrangement of Sacha Distel’s The Good Life (a suitable motif for the world the album conjures), The Goutelas Suite and The Old Circus Train which was created ad hoc during the band’s visit to the Cote d’Azur in 1966.

It is a rare selection. The album Midnight in Paris has never been issued on compact disc in Ellington’s own native country – and disappeared very quickly in its French pressing for Sony in the 1990s. This album is the only way you can hear this music at present – outside of vinyl copies from Internet auction houses. You cannot hear the music from Turcaret anywhere else and Laurent Mignard has reconstructed The Goutleas Suite from scraps at the Smithsonian. One cannot tell where Ellington ends and Mignard begins which is testament enough to the musician’s devotion to –and expertise in – the works of Ellington.

In my opinion, there cannot be any finer labourers in Duke’s vineyard than the members of this Orchestra. The musicianship is superb and the band’s performance, recorded live in Clamart in December last year, has been captured perfectly by Bruno Minisni. Aside from a brief trip to an Irish jazz festival, I don’t think the Orchestra has played live outside of France yet, but I do hope one day to catch a concert. The orchestra is quintessentially Ellington, without being a pale Xerox – as ghost bands are wont to sound – of the original. There are no slavish note-for-note copies of the solos, for example. And indeed with musicians of the taste and imagination of Aurelie Tropez, for example, and Fred Couderec (whose solo on Frontin is particularly transcendent) why would there be? And besides, thanks to Laurent Mignard’s scholarship and dedication, there is much new wine here, anyway. The album comprises an essential addition to any devotee’s collection of Ellington’s music. More details about the album may be downloaded here.

There is a promotional video here.

The album itself is available here.