Dr. John Duke Elegant (Blue Note)
Reviewed by Jay Trachtenberg, Fri., Feb. 18, 2000
Duke Elegant (Blue Note)What happens when you take the timeless and indefatigable canon of arguably the greatest composer of 20th-century American popular music and run it through the "fonkification" process of one of today's most inimitable stylists? You come up with this engaging set that has been aptly subtitled "The Doc Meets the Duke." In joining the legions of singers and musicians who, in the past year, have taken their turn at interpreting the musical mother lode of Duke Ellington, Mac Rebennack, aka Dr. John, has the advantage of his New Orleans pedigree to assist him in casting a wildly distinctive spell upon the master's oeuvre. If you come to this Blue Note release expecting a bona fide jazz album, you'll probably be disappointed even though there are certainly moments on "Solitude" and "Satin Doll" that would qualify as such. Instead, the good Doctor and his rhythm section give us a luscious sampling of well-known and obscure Ellingtonia set to a simmering, Crescent City backbeat. This works particularly well on the three instrumentals that end the album, "Things Ain't What They Used To Be," "Caravan," and "Flaming Sword"with the Dr. smearing thick gobs of fatback B-3 organ and syncopating Professor Longhair Latin-tinged piano triplets as only he can do. Ellington's music has always contained a deep strain of the blues, and the Doctor feels right at home wrapping his soulful voice around an evergreen like "Mood Indigo," or for that matter, lending a sly, funky twist to "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Don't Got That Swing)." With these fresh and idiosyncratic interpretations, Dr. John has given us the opportunity of experiencing Ellington in anutha zone.