The Duke Ellington Legacy swings hard and swings often on the sublime Single Petal of a Rose, an impressive presentation of the music of the master.
The band takes Ellington’s soaring sound and brings it to the modern era, soaking his determined variety of work in contemporary angles. Delivered in one breath like an Ellington session might roll out from the bandstand at some hot nightclub in the wrong part of town, Single Petal of a Rose is jazz done right.
It is music with feeling, with hunger. It explores the silhouettes of the charts as much as it revels in the music on them, bringing Ellington’s indubitable spirit to a new era with a fresh batch of clever players and a mind for the heritage.
That the album plays like a concert is no accident. “Before a concert I tell the band, ‘let’s make them want to dance,’” says arranger and pianist Norman Simmons. “People these days are afraid to move their bodies, but they can’t help it when we get going.”
And boy, do they get going!
Featuring an ensemble of Edward Kennedy Ellington II (guitar), Virginia Mayhew (tenor saxophone, clarinet), Noah Bless (trombone), Jami Dauber (trumpet), Tom di Carlo (bass), Paul Wells (drums), Sheila Earley (percussion), and Nancy Reed (vocals), the Duke Ellington Legacy gains strength as it goes along. Guest Houton Person’s tenor saxophone seems to show up in all the right places.
The album is bookended by a pair of solo piano pieces played with sophistication by Simmons. “Single Petal” and “Lotus Blossom” are special touches that do all they can to contain the passion simmering in the program.
Things really lift off with “Happy Go Lucky,” a swaying piece with a bounding melody. The song premiered as part of Duke’s 1946 Carnegie Hall concert, serving as the last frame of the “Deep South Suite.” The horns are killer and Person wails away with a hard-hitting solo.
More of that good stuff occupies tracks like the Latin-kissed “Johnny Come Lately” and a head-nodding presentation of the bluesy “After Hours” that grooves with di Carlo’s firm hand and Simmons’ swaggering ivories.
Containing the energy of Single Petal of a Rose is a futile pursuit. This is music to dance to, music that bounds from the speakers with delight. The ballads are warm and the heavyweights really swing for the KO. The Duke Ellington Legacy has accomplished its goal by painting one hell of a musical picture, showing devotion to one of the true greats and revealing their own stripes along the road. This is great stuff.