Delfeayo Marsalis

Sweet Thunder

Trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis—part of the New Orleans musical family that includes his father, pianist Ellis, and his famous brother, trumpeter Wynton—has reset Duke Ellington’s 1957 orchestral musical tribute to Shakespeare for an octet that features his other two brothers, Branford (soprano sax) and Jason (drums and percussion). Such Sweet Thunder was commissioned by the Ontario Shakespeare Festival, and Ellington and his “right-hand man,” Billy Strayhorn, conceived its 12 movements as illustrating some of the Bard’s noteworthy characters. The title track, a relaxed blues number, spotlights Branford’s sweet soprano sax, Delfeayo’s burly trombone and Mulgrew Miller’s down-home piano in what Ellington conceived to be a story Othello told Desdemona. Branford’s soprano and Jason’s percussion accompaniment provide an appropriate Middle Eastern flavor on Strayhorn’s “Half the Fun” —a tribute to Cleopatra. Romeo and Juliet are limned in “Star-Crossed Lovers,” an appropriately wistful quartet number featuring Delfeayo’s smooth-as-silk trombone, Mark Gross’s alto sax and Miller’s exquisite accompaniment. “Sonnet for Sister Kate,” Marsalis explains in his lengthy, erudite liner notes, “pays homage to the heroine of Taming of the Shrew,” while Hamlet’s honored in “Madness in Great Ones.” This is a compelling project that’s stunningly realized and will continue to intrigue one through repeated listenings.