The musical bar is set pretty high when the artist's last name is Ellington. Trumpeter/composer Doug Ellington is, for the record, Duke Ellington's grand nephew; and with music pulsing through his bloodstream, Life
, with his band the New Urban Groove, gets deep into jazz improvisation, and also deep into the groove.
The ensemble thrives on contrasts: Chazz Alley's gritty, on-edge, strung-tight alto sax backed by a rock-solid rhythm on the opening "Xenophobia." On "Looking Forward to Summer/Jeanne Lousie," pianist Yuma Sung's lively accompaniment and inspired soloing is pure fluid magic, a rich blend of heavenly lilting beauty and earthly soulful grace. Do a little research and you'll find Sung was born in 1989. Given a sound so mature and complex, I thought the date was a misprint on Ellington's website. "Song A," penned by Chazz Alley, opens with the leader's muted trumpet and Alley's alto sax in front of a throbbing beat, leading into the channeled fire of the saxophonist's soloand it seems Alley plays sax the way Wilson Picket sings: with soul and grit, tinged with a bit of menace. Then it's back to contrasts: the leader's carefree, loose-limbed soloing over a rubbery rhythm.
"Anti Trust," the lone vocal track on the disc, features a vibrant and heartfelt delivery by Luisa Lualhati, a melodious rant against pervasive injustice. "Billy's Dead" is Ellington's tribute to a childhood friend murdered at age five; the leader blows a bittersweet trumpet full of anguish and tears, followed by Sung's piano solo, which gets right to the heart of the theme of the composition. "POP," a Chazz Alley-penned tune, romps along on a brassy, upbeat groove, like something Nat Adderly might have written.
The mix of groove and improvisation makes Life
, with its modern edge, worthy of the Ellington name.
Visit Doug Ellington on the web.
Personnel: Doug Ellington: trumpet, flugelhorn; Chazz Alley: reeds; Yuma Sung: piano and keyboards; Soni Sasmita, Chris Amberger: bass; Steve Kaku: drums. Featuring Luisa Lualhati: vocals (3); Dave Smith: bass; John Carlson, Eric Pan: keyboards.