The 1999 reissue of this album marks a total reconstruction and rethinking of the original LP, and such a complete break from the original album that its story could fill a book.
Such Sweet Thunder was originally announced as a stereo and mono release, but only showed up in mono thanks to the technical problems inherent in early stereo in creating a concert-like ambience in which the performance seemed continuous. The reissue presents the original album as it was intended, using alternate takes from the original sessions, plus the stereo masters of the takes used on the original album, all rounded out with a mono outtake or two.
The music itself counts among Ellington's most well-realized "concept projects," all inspired by Shakespeare's work and filled with memorable melodies and ample opportunities for solos by Cat Anderson, Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, and Quentin Jackson. The Ellington-Strayhorn compositions treat their soloists like actors doing scenes and, in effect, playing parts, even quoting lines after a fashion -- Clark Terry "plays" Puck in "Up and Down, Up and Down (I Will Lead Them Up and Down)," and Johnny Hodges turns in one of the most sensuous performances of his career for "Half the Fun," from Antony and Cleopatra.
These moments more than justify the cost of the CD, and the bonus tracks, many of which are different takes and others are simply material that came from the same sessions, more than double the length of the original LP. The extended notes by Phil Schaap deserve some kind of award for detail and clarity.
AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder
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