If you think the Moody Blues were deep, Judge Paul Corupe says you'll love Mood Indigo.
Here's a nice little package for Duke Ellington fans that collects two essential films of the jazz great on one shiny disc. Love You Madly and A Concert of Sacred Music at the Grace Cathedral are both Emmy-nominated programs that capture Ellington at the height of his talents. They provide a fascinating look at the monumentally gifted composer, bandleader and pianist that emphasizes his mastery and influence over jazz—and popular music as a whole.
Completed less than ten years before Ellington's death, 1965's Love You Madly kicks off the disc. It's an hour-long profile of the famous musician hat intersperses interview footage of Duke's son Mercer with a couple of incredibly swinging performances at San Francisco's The Basin St. West Jazz Club and the 1965 Monterey Jazz Festival, along with a few candid shots of Ellington himself, relaxing backstage between sets. Here's the setlist:
1. Rockin' In Rhythm
What I love about this documentary is its sophisticated cool—not unlike one of Duke's jazz compositions itself. It's amazing how the whole feel of the piece is incredibly loose and off-the-cuff, and yet there's a definite intimacy present. This is surprising because filmmaker and jazz journalist Ralph J. Gleason only has a few brief snatches of interviews with his revered subject. Though the concert selections aren't always performed in their entirety, and this part of the DVD should definitely not be confused with a concert film, we do get a great peek at Ellington leading his band through some of his best-known compositions, including "Mood Indigo" and "Sophisticated Lady." This has been called the definitive portrait of Duke Ellington, and was a personal favorite of the man himself. There can be no higher recommendation than that.
If that wasn't enough, the disc continues with A Concert of Sacred Music at Grace Cathedral, the definitive live Ellington concert film. Shot for television in September, 1965, this show was commissioned as part of a celebration for the completion and consecration of the Cathedral. Ellington and his band perform the following selections:
1. Overture to Black, Brown and Beige
With his 15-piece orchestra, along with gospel singer Esther Marrow, Ellington commences the concert in utmost seriousness. But everything soon gives way to the familiar Ellington swing sound. While certainly different that the performances featured in Love You Madly, these soulful jazz hymns are just as enjoyable, and offer the viewer more of a traditional concert film setting to appreciate Ellington's amazing virtuosity. "New World A-Comin'" features an incredible piano solo that is often considered the show's finest moment, but don't overlook "In the Beginning God," a piece Ellington composed specifically for this event. Based on the critical and popular success of the show, Ellington reprised his sacred Cathedral concert several times. It became one of his signature works, which should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever seen this footage.
And now for the bad news: both Love You Madly and A Concert of Sacred Music at the Grace Cathedral are in rough shape. Grain and significant source artifacts often mar the image, and there is noticeable pixelation in dark areas of the screen. Sound is not much better. There's a good deal of background hiss in these films, and occasional snaps, crackles and pops are also audible. And I'll tell you this: Forget about the extrapolated Dolby stereo track on Love You Madly, which is blown out and sounds just awful. It's a little better on A Concert of Sacred Music at the Grace Cathedral, but still prone to distortion, so stick with the original mono. There aren't any extras on the disc.
While it's great to have these documents on DVD, it's really a shame that they couldn't have been cleaned up a little bit, especially the forthright and captivating Love You Madly. Even still, this is a fantastic DVD for Ellington fans, and they shouldn't hesitate to add it to their collections.
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