There are only two things missing from Martial Solal's Duke Ellington tribute, Ellington's arrangements and Solal's voice. Solal, born in French Algiers in 1927, has been a staple of the Paris jazz scene since the 1950s. His piano has accompanied Don Byas, Lucky Thompson, Sidney Bechet, and Lee Konitz. He was recently nominated for a Grammy Award for last year's duo recording with tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin. His solo and small group recordings, very few of which have been available in the United States, showcase a sound that parallels that of Hank Jones.
His 12-piece Dodecaband does things to Duke's music that others would never dare. Instead of showcasing his talents of re-interpretation at the keyboards, he reconfigures Ellington through arrangements. Depending on your stance on the Ellingtonian canon, you will either be delighted at this recording or just plain peeved. Strayhorn might have arranged things just so for Harry Carney or Johnny Hodges. Solal noting the passing for these often-imitated giants goes about converting "Satin Doll from a dance number into something you watch (and listen to) carefully. Likewise he rearranges "It Don't Mean A Thing so it takes about 3 minutes into the song before it swings, and then only in snatches and sidelong passes at the melody. This flyby is not taken in the avant-garde tradition. Solal is making sure he puts his stamp on the music. The band plays the tight, quick changing arrangements with plenty of skill and zip. I guess I'd expect a reconstruction like this to be more likely as a solo or trio project. The more adventurous jazz listener will certainly appreciate Solal's reinterpretation of Ellington.
Track Listing: Satin Doll. Caravan. In a Sentimental Mood. It Don't Mean a Thing. Take the 'A' Train. Medley: Cotton Tail; Don't Get Around Much Anymore; Things Ain't What They Used to Be; Take the 'A' Train; Prelude to a Kiss; Sophisticated Lady; I Got It Bad; Do Nothin' Till You Hear from Me.