While the number of recorded tributes to Duke Ellington last year during hundredth anniversary of the late maestro’s birth was truly enormous, there’s always room for one more, especially when it’s as well–designed and picturesque as this one by the Kentucky Jazz Repertory Orchestra. The KJRO travels backward as far as 1927 to recreate Ellington’s earliest version of “Black and Tan Fantasy” and ranges forward to 1970 to touch up his handsome “Portrait of Louis Armstrong.” The arrangements are faithful to the Duke’s purpose, with most of them meticulously transcribed by co–director Dick Domek, David Berger, Mark Lopeman, Gunther Schuller, Alan Campbell or Raleigh Dailey. The wide–ranging program embraces a number of Ellington’s loveliest and most popular melodies (“Mood Indigo,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “Prelude to a Kiss”) and several lesser–heard but no less scintillating gems including “Stevedore Stomp” (from 1929), “Ring Dem Bells” (1930), “Daybreak Express” (1933), “Merry–Go–Round” (1934), “Reflections in D” (1953), “Track 360” (1958), “Blues in Blueprint” (1958) and “Grace Valse” (from the 1959 film Anatomy of a Murder
). “The Mooche” is there too, as are “Rockin’ in Rhythm,” “Drop Me Off in Harlem,” “Concerto for Cootie” and a trio of songs written for the Ellington orchestra by alter ego Billy Strayhorn (“Blues in Orbit”), Juan Tizol (“Bakiff”) and son Mercer Ellington (“Blue Serge”). Guest artist Vince DiMartino is an excellent surrogate for trumpeters Cootie Williams (“Concerto for Cootie”) and Louis Armstrong (“Portrait of Louis”) while co–director Miles Osland effectively mimics Johnny Hodges’ amorous alto on “Prelude to a Kiss.” Osland moves to clarinet for the main theme from Anatomy of a Murder,
on which he, Martino and Domek (piano) are the soloists. “Reflections in D,” for unaccompanied piano, is played by Dailey who also transcribed. The ensemble is lodged in a flawless Ellington groove, while the music speaks for itself. Another brightly wrapped birthday present for the Duke.
Track listing: Stevedore Stomp; Black and Tan Fantasy (1927); Black and Tan Fantasy (1945); The Mooche; Mood Indigo; Ring Dem Bells; Rockin’ in Rhythm; Sophisticated Lady; Drop Me Off in Harlem; Merry–Go–Round; Daybreak Express; Track 360; Concerto for Cootie; Prelude to a Kiss; Portrait of Louis Armstrong; Bakiff; Blue Serge; Reflections in D; Blues in Orbit; Blues in Blueprint; Grace Valse; Anatomy of a Murder (78:20).