Ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jazz immortal Duke Ellington are being accompanied not only by reissues of Duke’s music but by new recordings from groups of all shapes and sizes around the world. Finland’s superb UMO Jazz Orchestra Celebrates Ellington with a charming performance of 14 of his memorable compositions whose earnestness never fails to please. Beyond that, UMO plays with great skill, and the charts, from overture (“Things Ain’t What They Used to Be,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “Perdido”) to finale (“Take the ‘A’ Train,” an Ellington signature albeit written by Billy Strayhorn) are consistently bright and rewarding. Duke is said to have written with specific soloists in mind, and there are a number of gleaming showcases here — for trumpeter Esko Heikkinen (“Daybreak Express,” “Concerto for Cootie”), alto saxophonist Pentti Lahti (“Star–Crossed Lovers”) and pianist/conductor Kirmo Lintinen (“Prelude to a Kiss”). But as was always the case with Ellington’s music, the ensemble is the cardinal element, and UMO is a consistently effective interpreter of his orchestral designs. It would, of course, require several shelves of recordings to encompass fully Ellington’s enormous library of song — and there is room for at least a few more on this disc — but what is included is first–class, from the tunes already mentioned to “Satin Doll,” “Creole Love Call,” “Day Break Express,” “Happy Go Lucky Local,” Rockin’ in Rhythm,” “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and a medley of “Caravan” (written by Juan Tizol) and “The Mooche,” each of which summons forth the seductive Ellington spirit without imitating the unsurpassed Ellington style. In short, it’s quite a remarkable celebration.
Track listing: Overture: Things Ain’t What They Used to Be, Sophisticated Lady, Perdido; Satin Doll; Creole Love Call; Day Break Express; Star–Crossed Lovers; Happy Go Lucky Local; Caravan / The Mooche; Rockin’ in Rhythm; Concerto for Cootie; Don’t Get Around Much Anymore; Prelude to a Kiss; Take the “A” Train (52:47).
Kirmo Lintinen, conductor, piano; Esko Heikkinen, Timo Paasonen, Teemu Mattsson, Tero Saarti, trumpets; Markku Veijonsuo, Mikko Mustonen, Vesa