The stellar musicians who make up the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra are dedicated to preserving the rich heritage of America's own original musical art form. Since Wynton Marsalis joined the Lincoln Center as artistic director in 1990, the orchestra has celebrated each year the contributions of one of jazz's greatest luminaries: Duke Ellington. This CD was recorded the year after the arrival of the New Orleans trumpet player, whose vision it was to preserve and celebrate the music of the early lions of jazz. The personnel on the CD are too numerous to list individually, but among their number are Marcus Belgrave on trumpet and flugelhorn, Reginald Veal on bass, Wycliffe Gordon on trombone, and Milt Grayson on vocals. New Orleans clarinet player Dr. Michael White sits in as the guest of his friend and musical colleague Wynton Marsalis. Together, the orchestra paints a beautiful picture of the elegant Duke Ellington and his music. Many of the selections are Ellington's portraits in music of some of his favorite people, including "Portrait of Louis Armstrong," "Portrait of Bert Williams," and the Ellington/Strayhorn composition "Total Jazz (Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald)." Other selections range from the elegiac "Thanks for the Beautiful Land Along the Delta" to the exuberant "Second Line." The recording ends with the 27-minute "Liberian Suite," the movements of which capture the many moods of one of America's greatest jazz composers. The quality and sophistication of the performance prove why the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra are a favorite of New Yorkers and international visitors. Their musical portrait of the great Duke Ellington proves worthy of his name.
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AllMusic Review by Rose of Sharon Witmer