CD Review: Sweet Thunder (Duke & Shak) – Delfeayo Marsalis

Such Sweet Thunder: Duke & Shak (Troubador Jass Records)

 Purchase From: ; iTunes

 Artist Website:

With this album, trombonist (and 2011 NEA Jazz Master) Delfeayo Marsalis breaks free of the formidable shadow cast by his more famous older siblings, Branford and Wynton; and he does it in a bold way, by reimagining Duke Ellington’s famed 1957 Shakespearean tribute, Such Sweet Thunder.  As a scholar of the Bard and the Duke and having written a master’s thesis on the connection between Ellington and Shakespeare, Delfeayo has a profound understanding of both legends and it shows in this work.

Again, this is not a moldy regurgitation of the original. Instead of working with a full Ellington sized big band, Mr. Marsalis employs an octet; resulting in a sound that is leaner, but tighter. Delfeayo’s band swings as hard (or I daresay, even harder than the Ellington band, in some instances) but loses nothing in the richness of the sound, which is a testament to Marsalis’ judicious arrangements, which retain an Ellington flavor but consistently avoid slavish recreation.  

The difference grabs you right away on the opener/title track, which is a bit more infectious and up-tempo than the original; riding atop Reginald Veal’s walking bass and a backbeat set by one of the baddest drummers working today, Winard Harper. Big brother Branford contributes a lyrical soprano sax turn that sets up Delfeayo’s muscular Al Grey influenced ‘bone solo and Mulgrew Miller’s piano statement.

The most impressive tracks are the ones where Marsalis expounds on the sections that in Ellington’s original recording were virtual interludes; such as “Sonnet to Hank Cinq”. Marsalis’ version is faithful in spirit to Ellington’s original, but gives a lot more room for the soloists to play, which is great news for us, as Delfeayo, and the saxophone trio of Mark Shim, Mark Gross and Jason Marshall are on fire.

“Sonnet in Search of a Moor” is transformed from a melancholy bass feature into a boppish burnout. It’s led by Delfeayo’s Fuller-esque trombone, Victor “Red” Atkins electrifying piano, Victor Goines red-hot tenor and Jason (little brother) Marsalis’ explosive time keeping. 

The best track, hands down, is “Circle of Fourths”. Originally a brief Paul Gonsalves throwaway, it has been reborn as over nine minutes of breathless modern jazz.   Meters and keys change on a dime as the tension between the rhythm section and Delfeayo’s and Shim’s solos, builds. The horn players want to break “free” but Charnett Moffett (bass) and Jason Marsalis are keeping them with one foot barely on the ground.  Good Stuff!

If you are a staunch keeper of the Ellington tradition, this will probably not be your cup of tea. If you like your Duke with a little spice, you’ll like Delfeayo Marsalis’ Sweet Thunder.  We get great Ellington & Strayhorn compositions, played by some of today’s most creative jazzmen, who present many fresh ideas.  It’s a triumph for Delfeayo Marsalis, who is an inventive arranger, an extremely gifted trombone player and an artist with vision.


Delfeayo Marsalis is now on tour to 36 American cities, with Sweet Thunder: Duke & Shak; a theatrical stage production, featuring actor Kenneth Brown, Jr., the Delfeayo Marsalis Octet (w/ Don Bryon and Winard Harper), plus full stage set and costuming. The show is directed by John Grimsley with a script by Charles E. Gerber.

Upcoming Dates:

  • 02.12.11 – Southern Theatre – Columbus, OH • Buy Tickets
  • 02.14.11 – Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle, Toledo OH
  • 02.17.11 – Knight Theater – Blumenthal-Charlotte, NC • Buy Tickets
  • 02.18.11 – Township Auditorium – Columbia, SC • Buy Tickets
  • 02.20.11 – Plaza Theater – Orlando, FL • Buy Tickets
  • 02.21.11 – Gusman Center – Miami, FL • Buy Tickets

Other stops on the tour include Mobile, AL; St. Louis; Chicago; Boston, New Haven; Detroit; Pittsburgh; New York City; Philadelphia and Baltimore. For information about when the tour is coming to your area, visit the artist website:


4 Responses to “CD Review: Sweet Thunder (Duke & Shak) – Delfeayo Marsalis”

  1. What a great album to cover! I will keep an eye out for this one and especially want to hear the 9 minute (!) remake of Circle of Fourths. Interesting that he moved around the track ordering from Duke Ellington’s original.

  2. […] Award with Delfeayo.  He’ll be playing selections from his latest critically acclaimed album Sweet Thunder (Duke & Shak) and more.   The JAI All-Star Youth Jazz Ensemble will open this […]

  3. […] relaxed, in good humor and ready to swing. Surprisingly, he played no music from his latest, album Sweet Thunder, an Ellington tribute. Instead, he delighted the audience with tunes from the jazz canon and his […]

  4. […] Sweet Thunder (Duke & Shak) – Delfeayo Marsalis (Troubador Jass) – Delfeayo does The Duke proud on this hard swinging octet version of “Such Sweet Thunder”. It’s the year’s best album from someone named Marsalis (Read out full review post HERE) […]

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