David Berger

Sultans of SW Harlem Nutcracker

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In the late '50s, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn adapted Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, transforming it from Russian classical music to American jazz. In the late '90s,, for a show called The Harlem Nutcracker, arranger-bandleader David Berger utilized five themes from the Ellington/Strayhorn version and added nine of his own, being creative within the Ellington style. One could easily imagine Duke and/or Strayhorn writing the newer pieces. Berger had formed his Sultans of Swing shortly before and, although the orchestra does not strictly copy the Ellington sound, there are many hints of Duke's band. In fact, two of Ellington's sidemen, trombonists Britt Woodman and Art Baron, are in this version of Berger's orchestra. How well the music matched the action on-stage of course can not be ascertained just by listening to the CD (which shuffles the order from how it appeared in the production), but the performances stand on their own extremely well, featuring many memorable themes, high-quality musicianship and consistently excellent solos. All but three players have at least brief spots, and Aria Hendricks and a chorus romp on "Sing Out." This is a highly recommended set of very enjoyable music.

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