From Slavic Soul Party!, A Match Made In High-Concept Heaven

Oct 17, 2016
Originally published on October 17, 2016 7:19 pm

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.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Now for an unexpected update of a jazz classic.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUKE ELLINGTON SONG, "MOUNT HARISSA")

MCEVERS: In 1963, Duke Ellington and his orchestra went on a jazz diplomacy tour of the Middle East sponsored by the U.S. State Department. 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. Reviewer Tom Moon says it's more than a novelty.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLAVIC SOUL PARTY! SONG, "MOUNT HARISSA")

TOM MOON, BYLINE: Here we have a match made in high-concept heaven or maybe Brooklyn - a rambunctious Balkan party band reinterpreting the earthy yet endlessly sophisticated music of Duke Ellington.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLAVIC SOUL PARTY! SONG, "ISFAHAN")

MOON: Somehow this mash-up avoids touristy exotica. Starting with rhythms you'd hear on the street or at a Balkan wedding, the nine musicians give these majestic Ellington melodies a shot of adrenaline.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLAVIC SOUL PARTY! SONG, "DEPK")

MOON: What's most impressive? Slavic Soul Party! did this live on a single night. They've taken a beloved big band score, reconfigured it for a much smaller group and then executed it with precision and dazzling energy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLAVIC SOUL PARTY! SONG, "TOURIST POINT OF VIEW")

MCEVERS: The album is called "Slavic Soul Party Plays Duke Ellington's Far East Suite." Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLAVIC SOUL PARTY! SONG, "TOURIST POINT OF VIEW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.