"Such Sweet Thunder" was the title of an extended jazz suite composed by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn in response to a commission from the Stratford (Ontario) Shakespeare Festival in 1957. For this album, trombonist, composer, and arranger Delfeayo Marsalis (of the New Orleans' Marsalises) put together his own arrangement of the suite's 12 pieces as a tribute to both Ellington and Shakespeare. Leading an all-star ensemble that includes Mulgrew Miller, Tiger Okoshi, Charnett Moffett, Victor Goines, and his brothers Jason and Branford, among others, Marsalis does a very good job of bringing his own personal voice to these pieces while honoring the compositions' original style and flavor. The high points are breathtakingly good: "Madness in Great Ones" is gleefully mischievous in its unpredictable stops and starts, its sudden tritone passages, and its light, nonchalant swing; "Sonnet to Hank Cinq" is cheerful and sweet, with a brilliantly arranged horn chart; "Sonnet in Search of a Moor" starts out in a gently loping swing groove, then explodes with energy. The gospel-flavored chord changes on "Lady Mac" are also a delight. When things bog down, it's because of that old familiar jazz arranger's problem: artsy self-indulgence. "Half the Fun" starts out promisingly, with exotic rhythms and artfully strange counterpoint passages, but at over nine minutes, it would have been twice the fun at half the length, and it finally ends after a long stretch of tedious meandering. And "Sonnet for Caesar" starts out intriguingly impressionistic but also quickly dissolves into what sounds suspiciously like a bunch of aimless noodling. Overall, though, this is a fascinating and clearly heartfelt tribute to a jazz master by a group of modern virtuosos, and it's well worth the effort that it occasionally requires.
AllMusic Review by Rick Anderson