A brief CBC interview with William Parker regarding this project:
"Here's my idea: Essence of Ellington is the most profound Ellington tribute ever recorded because it’s so much more than a tribute. Parker dares to deal in that most fundamental truth of all – how do you ‘find your own way’ of presenting music that already has its own internal compositional integrity and identity?"
–Philip Clark, Gramaphone (UK Classical Music magazine), read the entire essay.
"The Wynton Marsalis paradox: the works of jazz legends deserve to be celebrated, but by treating them like classical repertoire, you lose jazz’s spirit of spontaneity and invention. It’s that essence that William Parker taps into so successfully on this glorious tribute to Sir Duke’s innovative genius, leading a peerless free jazz orchestra through radical Ellington interpretations. Ellington built his arrangements around his musicians’ personalities; an approach Parker shares, giving solos to tenor saxophonist Kidd Jordan and pianist Dave Burrell (a sophisticated thunderstorm), while allowing the ensemble to improvise, pushing the music in several directions while swinging like crazy."
–Stewart Smith, The List
"Essence of Ellington finds Parker's orchestra distilling what he refers to as "the glow around the music that has nothing to do with what the music sounds like" from the songs of the Duke (and others), and making the compositions their own. It's a strategy that pays off in spades, especially since Parker and the other 13 players in his orchestra are so full of verve that each second of music literally bursts from the stereo. Particularly amazing are the vocal talents of Mr. Ernie Odoom, who croons smoothly on "Sophisticated Lady" before erupting into glossolalia in "Take the Coltrane." His inclusion is akin to the dusting of chocolate sprinkles on a beautifully iced cake. While the entire concert is presented in a package spanning the entirety of two CDs, there's never a moment where the energy drops. Pure joy!"
–Bryon Hayes, Exclaim
* 4 Stars * DownBeat
Preeminent jazz composer/bassist William Parker has been working with large ensembles from the very beginning of presenting his work as leader in the mid-70s. His Essence of Ellington project is the very latest captivating manifestation of his orchestral concepts, following on the extraordinary Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield project which was presented on record by the acclaimed 2010 release I Plan To Stay A Believer.
This project both interprets selections from the vast Duke Ellington book, and performs new Parker compositions inspired by the essence of Ellington. The Orchestra musicians feature both modern era masters & young shining lights. Their world-wide debut took place in Milano, Italy just this past February; that performance and recording thereof turned out so tremendously that William and decided it needed to be released as soon as possible. AUM agreed and ensured that happened. That concert, over 2 hours of transformative exuberance and tenderness, is presented here in its entirety.
“In A Sentimental Mood” presented in duet by Dave Burrell & Darius Jones (then with Ernie Odoom), mirroring anew the Duke Ellington & John Coltrane classic recording. “Caravan” is introduced with an extended alto solo by Rob Brown; when the full orchestra hits it’s immediately evident that this tune has not been performed with more LIFE than this, ever. And each of Parker’s own original compositions and performances thereof (there are four of them here = half of the material presented).
This first edition pressing comes packaged in a beautifully silk-screened gatefold sleeve, with accompanying booklet.
William Parker writes on the project:
“When I was 7 years old my father would come home from work and play the Ellington recording “Live at Newport 1957” almost every night. I would dance to this glorious music until I was exhausted. The essence was the glow around the music; it was the aura that identified each sound. There was this feeling of jubilation attached to each rhythm and melody as it moved across space. With each musician speaking in his own voice and Edward Kennedy Ellington writing for each individual, catering to their strengths and weakness yet still being true to the music.
It was at that time that I heard the Essence of Ellington, the jump, the freedom, all layered in the blues. The essence is also the scream, the high note, the vamps, the singing voices and personalities of the instruments that make up the orchestra which are at all times individual. The melody will be there but it will grow wings and give birth to new themes and gestures sometimes going into trance as all sacred music eventually does.”