The Austin Chronicle

Record Reviews

National Records

Reviewed by Jay Trachtenberg, December 31, 1999, Music

Ellis Marsalis

Duke In Blue (Columbia)

The Other Side of Ellington

Duke's Motivation (Palmetto)

Arkadia Jazz All-Stars

Thank You, Duke (Arkadia)

Don Sebesky

Joyful Noise (RCA)

Daniel Barenboim & Guests

Tribute to Ellington (Telarc)

Tony Bennett

Sings Ellington Hot & Cool (Columbia)

The Symphonic Ellington

Night Creature (Soul Note)

Marcus Roberts

In Honor Of Duke (Columbia)

As we come to the end of the first century of jazz and the terminus of this yearlong Duke Ellington Centennial celebration, a last tidal wave of Ellington tribute albums has flooded the marketplace, giving us a final reminder of the relevance and reverence afforded his unparalleled oeuvre. Patriarch Ellis Marsalis cuts to the chase with a simply splendid solo piano recitation that, by its very nature, explores the subtleties and nuances of a cross-section of mainly familiar tunes. An insightful and seasoned player, Marsalis lends a depth of expertise to his personal, eloquent, and blue-hued interpretations. The most interesting and off-center of these projects is that of The Other Side of Ellington, a quintet of musicians who all record under their own names for Palmetto Records. Not only have they chosen mostly obscure and under-recorded Ellingtonia such as "Mount Harrisa" and "Ad Lib On Nippon" from The Far East Suite, "Skrontch" from 1938's Braggin' In Brass sessions, and "Wig Wise" from Money Jungle, they give all their selections a fresh twist without being irreverent for its own sake. In particular, Pete McCann's sometimes edgy guitar lends an unusual voice we don't often associate with this music. Along the same conceptual lines but not nearly as inventive is the tribute by the roster of Arkadia Records. Labelmates Benny Golson, Billy Taylor, Joanne Brackeen, and even Joe Henderson serve up perfectly satisfying if not particularly exciting renditions of well-worn standard fare. On the other hand, arranger/conductor Don Sebesky pulls out the stops with intrepid arrangements for his star-studded big band. Thanks to its size, this is as close to the sonic heft of the Ellington Orchestra as we find here, but make no mistakes, this band's sound is thoroughly modern. Sebesky tops it all off with his own rousing three-part, nearly 20-minute-long composition, "Joyful Noise Suite." Unlike Sebesky, who takes liberties with the music, the classically oriented pianist Daniel Barenboim and his friends play it straight in their use of scaled down adaptions of Ellington's original arrangements to achieve a more subdued and warm chamber music feel. With help from vocalist Dianne Reeves on three tunes and clarinetist Don Byron, this project presents an exacting, heartfelt, if unspectacular tribute. Like Ellington before him, Tony Bennett is a national treasure. It's hard to find fault with his distinctive takes on a drove of well known Ellington standards. Terrific singer, classic material. The Italian Civic Jazz Band and the Milano Symphony Orchestra join forces under the musical direction of Enrico Intra to give voice to the seldom-heard and under-appreciated symphonic work of Ellington. Highlighted by the title track, this live recording helps put a more well-rounded perspective on the entire Ellington canon by providing a colorful glimpse of the immense musical tapestries that were but one aspect of his worldly aesthetic. Although it contains no Ellington material at all, Marcus Roberts' "non-tribute" might just be the most musically stunning album of all. Meant as a celebration of the Ellington legacy, replete with stylistical flair, and etched deeply in that spirit, Roberts shows why he is the premier pianist of his generation. This set of original compositions also stands as an immaculate rendering of group interplay and subtle dynamics. Duke would be proud.

(Ellis Marsalis) ****

(The Other Side of Ellington) ****.5

(Arkadia Jazz All-Stars) ***

(Don Sebesky) ***.5

(Daniel Barenboim ) ***

(Tony Bennett) ****

(The Symphonic Ellington ) ***

(Marcus Roberts) ****.5

Copyright © 2022 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.