Duke Ellington Legacy: Single Petal of a Rose (2012)
The great Duke Ellington would be proud of the way his family has decided to keep his memory and music alive and kicking for newer generations to enjoy. In 2003, his grandchildren, guitarist Edward Kennedy Ellington II and sister Gaye Ellington, formed The Duke Ellington Legacy, a nine-piece jazz ensemble dedicated to performing the music of the late composer/pianist. Single Petal of a Rose is the group's sophomore effort, featuring guest tenor saxophonist Houston Person, and follows its highly respected debut, Thank You Uncle Edward (Renma Records, 2008). Featured here are several Ellington and Billy Strayhorn standards, mixed in with a chart from deceased Alabama trumpeter and bandleader Erskine Hawkins, along with an original from pianist and band member Norman Simmons.
While Ellington's music is certainly on display, the sound is slightly different and does not attempt to replicate the heavy swinging orchestrations of the original Ellington band. That said, however, don't misinterpret the statement, as this ensemble does a more than capable job with swinging tunes, gorgeous ballads and a big band sound when called for. Veteran jazz singer Nancy Reed brings another element to the album, lending her dynamic voice to such songs as "In My Solitude" and "In a Mellow Tone" two songs that also feature Person as soloist. Reed also appears on "Squeeze Me," and "Love You Madly," two Ellington classics also showcasing trombonist Noah Bless and saxophonist Virginia Mayhew, both blowing some fine phrases.
Simmonswho first fell in love with the Duke Ellington Orchestra as a child and, as a teenager, saw a live performance at the old Regal Theater in Chicagoplays a prominent role throughout the disc, not only contributing to "Home Grown" and many other special moments, but also bookending the set with solo performances on the title track and Strayhorn's closing "Lotus Blossom," in addition to serving as the project's primary arranger. Among the many solid instrumental pieces for which Simmons pens the arrangements, the jumpy "Happy Go Lucky Local," swinging "Home Grown," and sublime Strayhorn ballads, "Lush Life," and "Blood Count," come alongside the most ambitious and best chart of the set, "Johnny Come Lately."
Other magical moments include the terrific "Upper Manhattan Medical Group" and Hawkins' very bluesy "After Hours," featuring Simmons dancing away on the keys on the only straight blues of the recording. With an album like Single Petal of a Rose, it's pretty much a certainty what kind of music is about to be heard from The Duke Ellington Legacy band; but what may be surprising is just how good the Ellington/Strayhorn songbook sounds coming from a polished and finessed nine-piece ensemble with a legacy to carry on. Younger audiences may find the music here more accessible than the originals, a point not lost on its founders.
Track Listing: Dedication by Norman Simmons; Single Petal of a Rose; Happy Go Lucky Local; In My Solitude; Johnny Come Lately; Home Grown; Blood Count; In A Mellow Tone; Upper Manhattan Medical Group; Squeeze Me; Lush Life; After Hours; Love You Madly; Lotus Blossom.
Personnel: Edward Kennedy Ellington II: guitar; Norman Simmons: piano; Virginia Mayhew: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Noah Bless: trombone; Jami Dauber: trumpet; Tom Dicarlo: bass; Paul Wells: drums; Sheila Early: percussion; Nancy Reed: vocals (4, 8, 10, 13); Houston Person: tenor saxophone (3, 4, 6, 8, 10,).
Record Label: Renma Recordings