Cynthia Felton: Come Sunday: The Music of Duke Ellington (2010)
Dr. Cynthia Felton made quite the splash with her self-produced debut, Afro Blue: The Music of Oscar Brown, Jr. (2009). In the spirit of well-assembled theme recordings like Karrin Allyson's Ballads: Remembering John Coltrane (Concord, 2001) and Todd Bishop's Pop Art 4 disc, 69 Annee Erotique, Afro Blue is a solid look at a master's craft of writing lyrics for jazz pieces.
Felton treads more familiar territory on Come Sunday: The Music of Duke Ellington, undertaking the project with an embarrassment of supporting artist riches that features Felton in several different format contexts, from bass/voice duet to little big band. In all formats, Felton swings effortlessly, and she comes out swinging on the opening "It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing," singing wide-open with no governor. She is joined by pianist Patrice Rushen, bassist Tony Dumas, and irrepressible drummer Terri Lyne Carrington. Felton scats capably, but saves her chops for later.
"Caravan" features studied pianist Cyrus Chestnut, bassist Robert Hurst, and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts. Watts lays down layers of rhythmic humus, over which the band and Felton stroll barefooted. Wallace Roney provides beautiful open-bell trumpet, augmented by tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts. Watts and Hurst take striking solo turns on a Juan Tizol composition made for rhythm sections. Watts stretches, sharing space with master percussionist Munyoungo Jackson.
Felton is most compelling in the small space of a duo. "In A Mellow Tone" is driven by Ryan Cross' informed bass, the two extending the reductionist language investigated by Lawrence Lebo and Denny Croy on Don't Call Her Larry, Volume 3: American Roots (On the Air, 2004), into the same sexy stratospheric realm that Ellington always went. Felton and Chestnut share a moment on a most lush "Lush Life," illustrating the artistic soul that was and is Billy Strayhorn.
There is not a throw-away song on this collection; durable is the Ellington songbook, as evidenced here and on John Pizzarelli's recent Rockin' in Rhythm: A Tribute to Duke Ellington (Telarc, 2010). Felton emerges fully formed with very specific ideas about jazz; she is on a roll, and it will be fun to see what she has in store next.
Track Listing: It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing; Caravan; In A Sentimental Mood; In A Mellow Tone; Lush Life; Perdido; Come Sunday; Take The A Train; I Got It Bad; Sophisticated Lady; I'm Beginning To See The Light; Duke's Place (C Jam Blues); Prelude To A Kiss.
Personnel: Cynthia Felton: vocals; Patrice Rushen: piano (1, 8, 12, 13); Cyrus Chestnut: piano ( 2, 5, 7); Donald Brown: piano (3, 6, 9, 10); John Beasley: piano (11); Tony Dumas: bass (1, 8, 12, 13); Robert Hurst: bass (2, 3, 6, 7, 9, 10); Ryan Cross: bass (4); John B. Williams: bass (11); Terry Lynn Carrington; drums (1, 8, 12, 13); Jeff Tain Watts: drums (2, 7); Yoron Israel: drums (3, 6, 9, 10); Lorca Hart: drums (11); Ronald Muldrow: guitar (3, 6, 11); Wallace Roney: trumpet (2, 8, 9); Nolan Saheed: trumpet (12); Ernie Watts: tenor saxophone (2, 11); Jeff Clayton: alto saxophone (6, 9, 12); Munyoungo Jackson: percussion (2, 3, 8); Carol Robbins: harp (13).
Record Label: Self Produced