Mark Lockheart: Ellington in Anticipation (2012)
Ellington in Anticipation isn't Mark Lockheart's first album to employ an expanded lineup; the Polar Bear/Blue Touch Paper saxophonist collaborated with Germany's WDR Big Band on 2010's Days Like These (Fuzzy Moon) and first cut his teeth in Loose Tubes, the now-legendary large UK collective of then-up-and-comers that included pianist Django Bates, saxophonist Iain Ballamy and guitarist John Parricelli, amongst other notables. But Ellington in Anticipationwhose septet's complexion is defined by the incorporation of violin alongside a three-horn frontlineis Lockheart's first to pay tribute to another composer, through imaginative rearrangements of music by and/or associated with Duke Ellington, along with original material clearly inspired by the great pianist/composer.
In that respect, Ellington in Anticipation is not unlike trumpeter Dave Douglas' string of tributes including trumpeter Booker Little on In Our Lifetime (Arabesque, 1995) and saxophonist Wayne Shorter with Stargazer (Arabesque, 1996), but there the comparison ends. Lockheart's own voice, approach, and acumen as both a performer and composer have grown significantly since the Loose Tubes years on albums including Moving Air (Basho, 2005) and In Deep (Edition, 2006).
Lockheart's group clearly appreciates the fine balance between reverent respect and respectful irreverence in tackling near-iconic material like "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)." Re-harmonized, to be sure, Lockheart's arrangement also turns the tune into ambling ¾-time, comfortably moving from near-chamber ambianceits memorable melody passed¸ tag team-like, from the rich blend of Lockheart, reed multi-instrumentalist James Allsopp (here solely on clarinet) and saxophonist/flautist Finn Peters to violinist Emma Smith in pizzicato unison with Liam Noble's prepared pianoto a more open solo section that, in addition to featuring Lockheart, gives bassist/Polar Bear cohort Tom Herbert an early opportunity to shine. It does, indeed, swing, but in a different, more modernistic fashion.
Lockheart's "My Caravan" even more significantly re-imagines Juan Tizol's often-covered "Caravan," its familiar theme only emerging in the final minute of a tune slowly building from drummer/Polar Bear partner Seb Rochford's hand-played foundation, over which Noble and the horns improvise freely, gradually coalescing around Lockheart's complex contrapuntal writing for further impressive soloing, all bolstered by Noble's blocky accompaniment.
A brooding tone poem, "Come Sunday" starts as a trio with Lockheart, Herbert, and Rochford, whose dark cymbal washes and mallet-driven toms are more about texture than time. Time does, however, ultimately emerge, as Rochford's gentle rim shot drives a slowly building second section where saxophones, clarinet and flute orbit thematically around each other as Noble's simple figure and Herbert's deep arco provide yet another foundation.
Whether rendering Billy Strayhorn's signature "Take the A Train" more episodic and expansive, or honing in with needle-like precision on the softly driven yet visceral and gradually intensifying take on Ellington's "Creole Love Call," Ellington in Anticipation proves that there's still plenty of life in material now dating back as much as 80 years. Lockheart and his septet deliver a thoroughly contemporary tribute that focuses the spotlight on a composer whose historical importance is never questioned, but whose music is often considered dated by younger generations. With Ellington in Anticipation, the Duke has rarely sounded so young...or relevant.
Track Listing: It Don't Mean a Think (If It Ain't Got That Swing); My Caravan; Come Sunday; Jungle Lady; Take the A Train; Azure; Uptown; Creole Call Love; Beautiful Man; Mood Indigo; Indian Summer.
Personnel: Mark Lockheart: tenor saxophone; Finn Peters: alto saxophone and flute; James Allsopp: clarinets; Emma Smith: violin; Liam Noble: piano; Tom Herbert: bass; Sebastian Rochford: drums.
Record Label: Subtone Records (uk)
Style: Modern Jazz