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.
Track Listing: Xenophobia; Song A; Anti Trust; Looking Forward to Summertime/Jeanne Louise; Billy's Dead; Raga Raspberry Shizzol; Pop; Life.
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.