The Vienna Art Orchestra, which has been around since its creation in 1977 by Mathias Rüegg, has been nominated for Best Big Band in several countries, including in 1984-85 by the American Press, according to the liner notes. Having over 30 recordings under their collective belts, they are most certainly one of the most acclaimed big band/jazz ensembles playing today. After listening to Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love, it’s easy to see why.
The musicianship of the Vienna Art Orchestra shines through on every track, but it’s particularly the arrangement expertise of Mathias Rüegg that will appeal to fan’s of Ellington’s music—it is Rüegg’s various arrangements, one might say rearrangements, that make this something new to Ellington lovers.
Take, for instance, the trimmed down “Blood Count.” The languid voice of Anna Lauvergnac topples wonderfully about the singular voice of Andy Scherrer’s saxophone. For the duration of the intro it is only these two voices that are heard, then slowly the bass slides in; with some brushes on the snare, we have a barely perceptible rhythm that strives not to impede or impugn the melody of Lauvergnac and Scherrer.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the chaotic warring of jazz bassist Georg Breinschmid and clarinetist Klaus Dickbauer on “Take the A-Train,” a perennial Ellington favorite. Listening to “Take the A-Train” is certainly akin to frenetically attempting to get off a late evening train when you’re 10 minutes late for an important date (Alice allusion intended). What I particularly enjoy about the song is a half-concealed “yeah” that sparks out during the middle of the duel between bass and clarinet, following a particularly artful run on the bass. I like the atmosphere this single “yeah” helps to create about the music, ironically making it at once larger than life and able to fit in at the local jazz bar.
Other Ellington compositions included are “Red Garter,” “I’m Just a Lucky So and So,” “After All,” and the relaxing guitar of “Sophisticated Lady”; all in all, 14 tracks of Ellington music interpreted and rearranged by the masterful Mathias Rüegg. I can imagine that many Ellington fans may find the rearrangement not to their liking, but I can’t imagine an Ellington fan not enjoying this album for what it is—both an artful compilation of Ellington’s music and a tribute to the legend of Ellington himself.