Saturday, December 29, 2007

As we enjoy the dulcet tones of the Duke Ellington orchestra, let us contemplate palms swaying in the breeze, spitting camels, and stripey tents by oases on moonlit desert nights. Imagine all of this, of course, in the rich spectrum of white, grays and black so characteristic of 1930s cinema.

Caravan is my favorite Duke Ellington number. Totally classic and yet new even seventy-some years after he wrote it, this song is a masterpiece. I can hear in this music the DNA of Béla Bartók and Django Reinhardt, and so much of what was right and evolutionary about 20th century music.

Can you imagine what it was like to hear this in the 1930s? This must have felt like an entirely new musical vista had shifted into focus, with things destined to turn toward the high-brow and extremely intellectual. Listen as the melody shifts to the only obliquely referential minor modulation-- only to be reeled back into the fold as the tonic's familiar arabesques are restored to that place our ears long to have tickled. All the while, the arrangement is extremely tight and you can feel the musicians at the helm never lost their sense of true North.

This is pure-dee brain food, and the logical progeny of Beethoven and Bach. This instrumental is superb, but my absolute favorite recording of this is the vocal arrangement by Lambert, Hendricks and Ross-- which is perfection, in my opinion. Look it up, if you get the chance.

Here's a rather delicious Les Paul version of same. Yummy rhythm guitar on this one.

And yet one more interpretation-- Brian Setzer Orchestra. Smokin'! Fantastic bass on this one.

Fine musicians recognize they don't need to re-invent the wheel, but it's permissable, on occasion, to slap some lipstick and whitewalls on that puppy.

Wait. Is it a full moon?

joe allen sagely pointed me in the direction of this impeccable version by Michel Petrucciani. If this one doesn't make your toe tap, you need a medical professional to check you for a pulse. He captures the majesty and the brilliance of Caravan in a million notes or less. Me likee.

...and they keep rolling in, courtesy of Joe, again. This one features jazz banjo. frontporchradio Speaking of the banjo guy (they're all great- lURVED the accordion guy), notice how he alludes to Flight of the Bumblebee in there. Good stuff!


Anonymous said...

How 'bout lipstick, a feather boa, clear stripper heels and a snoot full of high grade Bolivian Marching Powder:

phlegmfatale said...

Indeed - Michel was superb! Thanks for the reminder. I'm going to add him to the post.

Anonymous said...

You really stirred something up here!

Wipe off that lipstick, throw on some bib overalls and git yew a bottle o' corn likker:

Anonymous said...

OK. I really don't mean to spam your blog, but I hadn't heard this song in years and I've found at least a dozen more absolutely incredible arrangements out there - they're easy enough to find, so I won't list them here.

Except for this one by the Mills Brothers. This one takes the cake:

And, the corn liquor actually gets some screen time in this one!

phlegmfatale said...

So long as we're on the same wavelength, spam away, my dear!

Christina RN LMT said...

You should have heard Silver squeeeee during the clarinet solo!

"See! See! That's why clarinet kicks ass! That's why clarinet is the best instrument!"

Wonderful arrangements, all. I really liked the version from the Brian Setzer Orchestra.

Thanks, Phlegm!

phlegmfatale said...

christina - clarinet only TOTALLY kicks ass! Glad you enjoyed it! I'm going to be listening to all of these over and over.

phlegmfatale said...

And yeah - the clarinet totally MAKES the piece - classic sound- very mood-making.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for these. And I wandered off on some of Petrucciani's other stuff. It's been a while since I heard him. Truly magnificent jazz.

Anonymous said...

Myron's blog sent us here. I'm enthralled by all those versions and the quality + the originality of the playing. I'm a Glenn Gould/ Bach/Beethoven girl but they would agree with you and die of jealousy if they were not already gone. Music lives on and grows.I'm tapping my toe, at 78! You gave me lots of good stuff to put in my MP3. Thanks!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Why yes, I do feel like getting sand between my toes now. Thanks for the lovely change of pace.

Lin said...

Oh, you're trying to lure me down the path to big and penalizing downloads, Missy! I love Ellington!

LBJ said...

Duke Ellington. . perfect. . but for tonight. I'm listening to the Donnie Darko soundtrack. Just one of those nights.

Sudiegirl said...

Girl - I LOVED this post.

And is it just me, or does the Lambert/Hendricks/Ross version also make you think of the Jonny Quest theme?

It does me...but then again, I'm a Jonny Quest maniac.