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Duke Ellington: Songs and Hits

EMI 50999 0 48945 2 3



1. Caravan
2. Sucrier Velours
3. The Mooche
4. Sultry Sunset
5. Minnehaha
6. Isfahan
7. Sonnet for Caesar
8. Star-Crossed Lovers
9. In a Mellotone
10. I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart
11. Don't Get Around Much Any More
12. Prelude to a Kiss
13. I Got It Bad
14. Mood Indigo
15. In a Sentimental Mood
16. Sophisticated Lady

Tracks 1-9
Jon Harle - Soprano sax, alto sax
Derek Watkins, John Barclay, Henry Lowther, Stuart Brooks, Alan Downey - Trumpets
Peter King, Peter Whyman, Andy Findon, Peter Ripper, David Roach, Edward Beckett - Saxes, woodwinds
Paul Nieman, Mark Nightingale, Adrian Lane, Roger Williams - Trombones
Philip Eastop - French horn
Steve Lodder - Synthesizers
Pau Morgan - Bass
Simon Limbrick - percussion
Paul Clarvis - Drums
Richard Rodney Bennett - Piano (tracks 4, 6, 8)
Stan Tracey - Piano (track 9)
Clark Tracey - Drums (track 9)
Frank Ricotti - Vibes (track 1)
Paul Jones - Harmonica (track 3)
Mike Henry - Vocals (track 1)
Terry Edwards - Vocals (track 3)
Sarah Leonard - Vocals (track 5)
Alexander Balanescu, John Carney, Kate Musker, Tony Hinnigan, Miranda Fulleylove, Rosemary Furniss, Beverley Davison, Justin Pearson - Strings

Tracks 10-17
Barbara Hendricks - Vocals
Monty Alexander Trio


Although I can't find any mention of it on the sleeve, I think this CD is a reissue of two separate albums of Duke Ellington's music. The first, recorded in 1990, consists of saxophonist Jon Harle's version of nine Ellington compositions. The second, recorded in 1994, comprises a recital at the Montreuz Jazz Festival by singer Barbara Hendricks and the Monty Alexander Trio.

Jon Harle was inspired to appreciate Duke Ellington when Jon's father took him to see one of the Duke's sacred concerts in the 1970s. Jon's interpretations of Ducal pieces shows his sincere appreciation for Ellington, yet in many ways they are wrong-headed. Harle assembles a massive orchestra to perform these new arrangements and the project threatens to sink under its own weight.

For example, Caravan begins with a ponderous mix of bells and discordant synthesizers. It lightens up with a theme statement shared between flute and soprano sax, followed by a swirling sax solo from Jon Harle against an intricate background. Frank Ricotti's vibes add to the melodic appeal and Mike Henry adds ethereal vocals. Yet the listener may wonder how all this business improves upon Duke Ellington's original performances.

It is good to hear Harle taking up a little-known Ellington piece like Sucrier Velours and soloing soulfully on it. But The Mooche is too polite: it should be mysterious - even ominous. Paul Jones's harmonica adds a touch of the blues but most of the performnce is just too understated. Here and elsewhere, Jon Harle's intonation can be dubious, as it is in Star-Crossed Lovers (which certainly lacks the sweetness of Harle's inspiration, Johnny Hodges). Stan Tracey's arrangement of In a Mellotone at least swings in the best big-band fashion, with the tempo doubling halfway through and a fine muted trumpet solo from Henry Lowther.

As you might expect, the Monty Alexander Trio swings easily on the last eight tracks. The problem here is the singer - Barbara Hendricks, who is basically an opera singer. This means that she delivers the songs with excessive projection, which sounds mannered, instead of the more conversational style employed by most popular vocalists. At times she sounds like a "classical" vocalist trying to improvise in what she thinks is a jazz style, but it fails to convince. Her favourite improvising device is a simple turn - going up and down around a particular note.

The music on this album is pleasant and obviously well-intentioned as tributes to the Duke. Yet, apart from it being a new take on an old subject, one may question its purpose, when Ellington's original music is mostly readily available on disc - and is unlikely to be surpassed by any other people's arrangements.

Tony Augarde

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