Written by Tom Moon from NPR
In 1963, Duke Ellington and his orchestra participated in a State Department “jazz diplomacy” tour of the Middle East. Inspired by the experience, Ellington and composer Billy Strayhorn wrote a collection of songs called The Far East Suite. Now, nearly 50 years later, the New York brass band Slavic Soul Party! has reinterpreted it — and the result is more than a novelty.
The arrangement found on Slavic Soul Party! Plays Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite is a match made in high-concept heaven (or maybe just in Brooklyn): a rambunctious Balkan party band reinterpreting Ellington’s earthy, yet endlessly sophisticated music. The members of Slavic Soul Party! use accordions, clarinets and blaring brass to bring out the tension in Ellington’s orchestrations.
Somehow, this mashup sidesteps touristy exotica. Starting with rhythms you’d hear on the street or at a Balkan wedding, the band’s nine musicians give those majestic Ellington melodies a shot of adrenaline.
What’s most impressive: Slavic Soul Party! did this live, on a single night. The band took a beloved big-band score, reconfigured it for a much smaller group and executed it with precision — and dazzling energy.