The sophomore effort from John Brown, Dancing with Duke: An Homage to Duke Ellington, is a fashionable and sophisticated piece of work that makes the best of his splendid trio. Featuring Brown on bass, Cyrus Chestnut on piano and New Orleans’ Adonis Rose on drums, the trio slickly glides across numerous standards.
Before I even listened to the first bar of the record, the album entranced me. In the liner notes, Brown says “His (Ellington’s) music makes it easy for people to find their own voices.” Isn’t that the greatest? No snootiness, no self-importance. Ellington’s gift is in helping people find their own gifts, in helping people elevates right along with Edward Kennedy Ellington. What class!
It’s clear that Ellington (and Billy Strayhorn) have helped Brown’s trio discover their voices. Throughout Dancing with Duke, these cats play with aplomb and exuberance that is rarely heard.
It makes sense that the John Brown Trio would vibe so well, of course. The three came out of Brown’s long association with his colleagues dating back around two decades with the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine. Chestnut was making a name with Betty Carter, while Rose worked away with Nicholas Payton’s outfit. While they’re playing together for the first time here, there’s a fluency with the players that digs deep.
The arrangements found on Dancing with Duke were developed instinctively in studio. Ellington’s classics sure give way to new versions and views, like all great works, and it’s bracing to hear these cuts spring to life with the care of this nimble trio.
“In a Mellotone” is the first piece. It uses a comfortable bass rhythm from Brown that takes its time getting through. Chestnut’s left-hand chording draws on a little bit of Freddie Green, but the lyricism is all his own.
One of my favourites is the raucous and wild working of “Perdido.” This track from Juan Tizol, long-time Ellington trombonist, comes with all the fresh Spanish flavour you need. Rose hits it out of the park with a clave-touched rhythm and Chestnut’s big two-fisted flourishes rock with parallel octaves and all sorts of raw magic.
Through soulful renditions (“Pie Eye’s Blues”) and beautiful ballads (the entire “Sweet Ballad Suite”), the John Brown Trio takes to Ellington’s finest in style. There’s little question that Brown and Co. understand the instrumental roles in the music, right down to the bass, and the “preservation of the groove” remains at the top of the list.