In an industry looking for the next superstar cash cow, most singers have to become howling divas, pulsating hotties or angst-riddled yodelers in order to gain wide recognition. How many gifted musicians and singers get lost in the shuffle due to lack of funding or connections or are simply dismissed out of hand because they don't fit comfortably into an established genre? We will never know. Emerging artists in Europe may have an easier time of it, and seem to have a more receptive audience, along with a nurturing creative environment encouraging exploration and experimentation. Case in point: Swedish singer, composer and overall musical auteur Sophie Dunér. This remarkable talent wears many hats, including painter, poet and arranger. Known primarily for her bold modern classical-oriented vocal numbers backed by string quartet or orchestra, she is a prime example of this new wave of "culturanauts," hurtling over commercial barriers and breaking down conceptual doors.
Here Dunér demonstrates her range and flexibility by taking the reins of an Ellington favorite and driving it down the road less traveled. Backed by a surprisingly powerful New York-based acoustic trio, her sultry, controlled delivery and superb phrasing never sound contrived or forced. Guitarist Rory Stuart holds things together with judicious chord voicing and lean, well-constructed solo lines above Matt Penman's driving pulse and the explosive percussion work of Kahlil Kwame Bell.
Sophie Dunér may not be Ella, but her "Caravan" delivers the goods across the frontiers of what is increasingly becoming a wilderness of uncharted musical territory.
A full 10 years after its recording, The Duets
, produced as a promotional CD for Bang & Olufsen, had still not been released commercially. The music salutes Duke Ellington, with 10 of 12 tunes composed by him. "Caravan" is a dazzling performance as Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen supports pianist Mulgrew Miller with an unbelievable virtuosic ostinato bass figure during the A-parts of the theme. The tempo is fast, making it all the more incredible that every note stands distinct in the sound picture. Throughout, NHØP plays with infectious drive and swing, both as accompanist and as soloist, which inspires Miller to great heights as well. A classic performance.
Freddie Hubbard’s arrangement of "Caravan," with that impossible bridge, showcases his physicality and power as a trumpet player. The first declarative phrase sets the tone for the whole solo. Freddie played great with Art Blakey; he knew his style so well, and knew just when to either leave some space or play a phrase that would complement one of Bu’s patented fills. This solo has a real arc to it and yet remains fiery from the first note to the last.
By the way, another classic from this session is "Skylark
." At 3:15 into it, listen to how Freddie comes back into at the bridge—another long and perfect ‘Freddie-phrase.’
A Spanish version might be expected to bring this song back home, since the Arabs (and their caravans) occupied Spain for many centuries and left traces of their culture in the arts, including music. But Jorge Pardo – flamenco guitar great Paco de Lucia's usual reed and flute player – knows better than to invoke clichés. His "Caravan" sounds quite contemporary, with a hard-toned Brecker-like tenor and an electric bass played with lots of effects. When the flamenco guitar steps to the fore, it never plays its classic role, and the percussion and berimbau weave a thick maze of metallic sounds around everything. A very Spanish version, but a most unexpected one, too.
Listen closely and you'll hear elements of Juan Tizol's "Caravan" right from the start of this iconoclastic reinterpretation by Danish guitarist Pierre Dørge and his New Jungle Orchestra. Obviously, by its very name the band hints at Ellington's repertoire from its "jungle" period. Here, however, in addition to a trombone paying homage to Tizol, a rock-like beat and oriental horn riffs over a Zappa-ish lead guitar carry our lost caravan through a desert fantasy and deep into a sonic jungle. Still, isn't this is an appropriate way for a Danish band to assert its identity on American soil? With a playful version of a classic tune performed in the city where it was born six decades earlier?
On Gillespie's second recording for Norman Granz's Pablo label, he joins Oscar Peterson for a set of miraculous duets. Benny Green, who wrote the liner notes for this album, compared this performance of Ellington's classic composition to the Armstrong and Hines rendition of "Weather Bird
." Peterson melds a keen sense for complementary accompaniment with dexterous, interweaving polyphonic lines. The breakneck tempo does little to deter Gillespie, who navigates an unaccompanied section without wavering in the slightest. Both musicians bring their best to this date: both show incredible range, flexibility, and complete mastery of their instruments. The result is a well-worn standard transformed through harmonic freshness and rhythmic vitality into an iconic performance.
From Bill Ware's Duke Ellington tribute record, we have Bill Ware's vibraphone and Marc Ribot's irrepressible guitar answering “Yes!” to the question Does the world need another cover of “Caravan”?
In Ribot, Ware has discovered the perfect foil. The guitar begins with plenty of unresolved chords, dissonant intervals, sly figures, and taunting silences – then
the fun begins. Ware unfurls that classic theme while Ribot comps (and swings) like mad, alternating chords with walking basslines. This inspires Ware to some tremendous, rippling solo passages. When the roles are reversed, Ribot is more than up to the task. Best of all, it sounds like the guys were having a load of fun.
Duke Ellington's first "Caravan" set off from Hollywood five months before his better-known 1937 big-band excursion
departed New York. The journey was cloaked in mystery. Asked our destination, Duke said only, "Expect sand." That could've meant Malibu. Duke chuckled, "Lots of sand." So the Sahara was not entirely a shock. Upon arrival, a local official demanded to know why we were there. "We came," said Duke, "for the waters." The official sputtered, "We're in the desert!" Duke slyly tugged his ear and replied, "I was misinformed." Cootie, Carney and Barney are all masterful here, but co-composer Tizol's valve trombone is unforgettable.
"Caravan," its carcass chewed over more than leftovers from the Donner Party, had by 1997 accounted for >1000 jazz recordings. Our hero Michel Petrucciani, determined to restore life, was undeterred. As deep bass clusters rumble like thunder over Castle Frankenstein on a dark and stormy night, Herr Doktor resumes his mad experiment, summoning elemental forces to reanimate matter that conventional minds deem dead. Assaulting his piano's monstrous hulk, Petrucciani administers CPR, frantically defibrillating with ever-accelerating tempos, tirelessly charging up and down the keyboard until at last the Creature pulses anew. "Caravan" is one scary tour de force.
Ellington’s early contribution to the Latin jazz canon is a collaboration with valve trombonist Juan Tizol. “Caravan” combines the Afro-Cuban practice of elaboration over a repeating vamp section, and the American jazz tradition of passages with more harmonic variety. In this case, in the middle section Ellington references the oft-employed harmonic progression from George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” to contrast to the first theme, which is driven by a more rhythmic feel. Tizol continued to work as trombonist and collaborative composer in Ellington’s band for years to come, and the enormously popular “Caravan” stayed in Ellington’s repertoire for his entire career.
October 24, 2007 · 1 comment
Charles Delaunay and Thelonious Monk, 1954
Photo by Marcel Fleiss
Plays Duke Ellington
is an album that has never sat well with critics. One suspects that’s because people were left wondering why the second-greatest composer in the history of jazz bothered to record an album of tunes by the greatest composer in the history of jazz. But that fails to do justice to the album on its own merits. Considered in that light, this is a wonderfully jarring collection of fresh treatments – and maybe the finest record of Ellington covers. On “Caravan,” the melody is there all right, and Monk doesn’t dare violate the song’s integrity, but he does find ways to add his imprimatur. “Caravan” is the final track on the disc, and it’s the perfect other bookend to his wink-and-a-nod treatment of the opener, “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).”
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