Scottish National Jazz Orchestra - In the Spirit of Duke (3 stars)

Scottish National Jazz Orchestra - In the Spirit of Duke

Live recording an impeccably performed, if conservative, affair


Compared to William Parker’s Essence of Ellington, an inspired avant-garde reinvention of Sir Duke, this live recording by the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra is a rather conservative affair. Led by Tommy Smith, the SNJO’s arrangements are based on transcriptions of mid-period Ellington performances, but while In the Spirit of Duke slinks elegantly from the speakers, the question of whether such a classicist approach robs jazz of its spontaneity seems moot: this is undeniably great music, performed impeccably. A well-curated set includes Ellington and Strayhorn’s interpretations of Grieg and selections from the Queen’s Suite, alongside well-kent classics like ‘Prelude to a Kiss’ and ‘Diminuendo in Blue’. The Orchestra do take some minor liberties with the source material – the gorgeous piano solo in ‘The Single Petal of a Rose’ becomes a graceful showcase for Smith’s tenor sax – but you can’t help but wonder what a less respectful approach might have yielded.