Sunday, May 18, 2014

Old Jazz CD's 2014 - Part Four - The Duke Ellington Session

Joe Henderson
Lush Life: The Music Of Billy Strayhorn

By Scott Yanow
With the release of this CD, the executives at Verve and their marketing staff proved that yes, indeed, jazz can sell. The veteran tenor Joe Henderson has had a distinctive sound and style of his own ever since he first entered the jazz major leagues yet he has spent long periods in relative obscurity before reaching his current status as a jazz superstar. As for the music on his "comeback" disc, it does deserve all of the hype. Henderson performs ten of Billy Strayhorn's most enduring compositions in a variety of settings ranging from a full quintet with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and duets with pianist Stephen Scott, bassist Christian McBride, and drummer Gregory Hutchinson to an unaccompanied solo exploration of "Lush Life." This memorable outing succeeded both artistically and commercially and is highly recommended.

Ellis Marsalis
Duke In Blue

By Andrew Bartlett
Despite his prodigious talents on piano, Ellis Marsalis has been largely content to remain in his hometown of New Orleans, raising sons who would go on to win wide acclaim in the jazz world. And with albums like Duke in Blue to his credit, Marsalis ought to be content, as this is easily among the most fulfilling nods to Ellington in his centennial year. The playing is neither reserved nor sporty, relying on color and a slowed pace to demonstrate how well Ellington built his works from behind the keyboard. "Come Sunday" gets the most sublime reading, and "The Mooche" gets the broadest, brightest jump, opening the session. In between, there's "Squatty Roo" with its finger-jumping complexity and "Reflections in D" to quietly indulge a melancholic strain that runs throughout Duke in Blue. Maybe Marsalis's vision of Ellington is suffused with the blues, not just their structure but their philosophic, on-the-run underpinnings. After all, Marsalis chose to remain somewhat local in the Crescent City, deepening his family's legacy for sure. And Ellington? Well, he barely came off the road for home leave in all his decades of touring. In any event, Marsalis sounds experienced and wise throughout his Ellingtonian forays, ever comfortable and carefully creative.

Dave Grusin
Homage To Duke

By CDUniverse
"Mood Indigo" won the 1994 Grammy Award for "Arrangement on an Instrumental." Although Dave Grusin is best known as a soundtrack composer and for his jazz-pop recordings, he has always had a great admiration for jazz. This CD (released in a fairly deluxe package) gave Grusin an opportunity to pay tribute to Duke Ellington. He performs ten mostly familiar songs associated with Ellington and wisely features fluegelhornist Clark Terry on five of the selections. Other prominent soloists include tenor saxophonist Pete Christlieb, trombonist George Bohanon, tenor saxophonist Tom Scott (returning to his roots), clarinetist Eddie Daniels (on an orchestrated version of "Mood Indigo"), and pianist Grusin himself. This is a respectful and well-conceived tribute. ~ Scott Yanow Recorded at Sunset Sound, Los Angeles, California. Includes liner notes by Leonard Feather and Dave Grusin. Personnel: Dave Grusin (piano); Clark Terry (vocals, trumpet, flugelhorn); Steve Kujala (flute, alto flute); Ronnie Lang (flute); Eddie Daniels (clarinet); John Lowe (bass clarinet); John Clark (oboe, English horn); Pete Christlieb, Tom Scott (tenor saxophone); David Duke , Brian O'Connor , Richard Todd (French horn); George Bohannon (trombone); Tommy Johnson (tuba); Harvey Mason, Sr. (drums). Audio Mixer: Don Murray . Recording information: Sunset Sound Studios, Los Angeles, CA. Photographers: William Gottlieb; Chuck Stewart. Unknown Contributor Roles: Clark Terry; O'Connor. Arranger: Dave Grusin. Personnel: Dave Grusin (piano); Clark Terry (vocals, trumpet, flugelhorn); Tom Scott, Pete Christlieb (tenor saxophone); Rick Todd, David Duke, Brian O'Connor (French horn); George Bohanon (trombone); Tommy Johnson (tuba); Steve Kujala (flute, alto flute); Ronnie Lang (flute); Eddie Daniels (clarinet); John Lowe (bass clarinet); John Clark (oboe, English horn); John Patitucci, Brian Bromberg (bass); Harvey Mason (drums).

Duke Ellington & John Coltrane

By Nathan
...and these two legends of their own time done amassed it all into this one 35-minute recording. A collaboration like this is, well, basically, the stuff dreams are made of. And this is the cool and calculated nightclub album that all the newly-open ears to jazz are looking for. When you take Duke Ellington, possibly the single most important figure in jazz history, give him a set list of his own classic standards, then have him handling all the piano parts and such, then place him alongside one of the most popular and rule-changing jazz ensembles of the day, the John Coltrane Quartet, headed by the inimitable Coltrane saxophone, as well as having Ellington's own bassist Aaron Bell and drummer Sam Woodyard sit in on the sessions. Ohhh, baby, you done mixed a drink that's gonna make everybody in the bar smile. These recordings are just purely respectful to the original compositions and masterfully-performed. When you hear John take on an old 1940s Ellington standard like 'In a Sentimental Mood', all them World War II veterans that were gettin' on in their years must've been proud of the young saxophonist. But, as most others have mentioned, absolutely nothing tops the interpretation of Billy Strayhorn's 'My Little Brown Book'. It will just absolutely move you to tears. It's cool, it's sophisticated, it'll make you sweat and the build-up and movement of the lines Coltrane plays go down perfectly. Even more perfectly when coupled with some cognac. This is just not something any jazz fan or Coltrane completist or Ellington historian, or whatever you are, should be without. I rank it among my Top 5 favorite jazz recordings, truth be told. So that right there should be enough to peak your curiosity.

Don Sebesky
Joyful Noise: A Tribute to Duke Ellington

By Michael G. Nastos
The orchestration skills of Don Sebesky are known far and wide through jazz and non-jazz circles. As an arranger he has no peer, but tackling the music of Duke Ellington in this centennial year of Ellington's birth is a daunting task. Sebesky proves up to the challenge, turning a few of Ellington's tempos 180 degrees, lavishly building on well-established melodies, adding some flourishes of his own, and composing an Ellingtonian suite as a 100th birthday present. Sebesky assembled a 23-piece band with such prominent soloists as bassist Ron Carter, trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, saxophonist Phil Woods and trumpeter Tom Harrell. They further fortify Ellington's heightened emotional aesthetic and vegetable-soup-like delicious music. Never taking a safe path, Sebesky pumps up the midnight slow ballad "Mood Indigo" into a mid-tempo swing waltz, John Pizzarelli's guitar so what backtalking with the horns. A loping bass from Carter turns into a cowboy "Creole Love Call" with able solos from Woods and Harrell. The classic ballad "Chelsea Bridge" and "Take the Coltrane" are both fairly up swingers, the former with cleverly staggered phrases in the melody contrasting with the shouting horns, the latter where Sebesky uses upper register horns to state the basic, simple theme that was Coltrane's sound on this tune originally done by Trane and Duke. "Caravan" and "Satin Doll" are more typical rhythmically, Sebesky dropping orchestral layer upon layer on the camel's back for "Caravan," while the face of "Doll" is shadowed in thick rouge by Carter's bass way up in the mix, his lines running contrary to the band playing this well-known melody, lipstick traces provided by Woods, mascara dripping via Pizzarelli's coyish scatting and guitar licks. "Warm Valley" is as expansive a ballad as you'd expect from Sebesky; it's an organ of sheer beauty. The nineteen-plus-minute "Joyful Noise Suite" runs thorough a quoted and paraphrased melánge of Ellington catch phrases, starting with a bah-bah-doo-bop theme, merging into slinky, spooky gossamer crescendos and decrescendos, ending in a wild, hard-charging frenzy, the passages named "Gladly-Sadly-Madly." The band swings out on a euphonium led "Koko." Of all the tributes to Ellington, this is the best, a magnum opus to the maestro from a man and his band who are well aware of his grandeur, plus how to play all the right notes. Highly recommended. 

Michel Petrucciani
Promenade With Duke

By Dave Nathan
In an interview, Michel Petrucciani said " biggest inspiration is Duke Ellington, because in my very early age he gave [me] the inspiration to play the piano." For Promenade with Duke Petrucciani not only honors music Ellington composed, but music with which he was associated. There are some Billy Strayhorn pieces and other songs where Ellington's compositional contributions are arguably marginal. That the album offers an adventure in harmony is predicted by the first cut, "Caravan." Stretching over seven minutes in length, it explores, in-depth, virtually every nuance of this 1936 hit which Ellington wrote with trombonist Juan Tizol. Bold approaches to harmonies notwithstanding, Petrucciani does not desert his basic let-it-all-hang-out romanticism which he celebrates on "Lush Life." He emphasizes feelings of sentimentality in his rendition of "In a Sentimental Mood." His interpretation is brooding and introspective, but every now and then some bright chords hold out the hope that the somber climate may be passing. Petrucciani is a master at clarifying the mood he is trying to create with his piano. Not all the music on the album is familiar Ellington, as shown in the presence of two rarely performed pieces, "Hidden Joy" and "One Night in the Hotel." It is on the well-known "Take the 'A' Train," however, that Petrucciani expresses best the joy he experiences with Ellington's music and the influence it has had on him. His is a rousing, twisting rendition of the Duke's signature tune. Promenade with Duke is one of the more innovative and stimulating sets of solo piano performances of Ellington's music on disc.

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