have been without his collaborator? He still certainly would have been considered one of the America's greatest artists, but it's hard to imagine an Ellington "greatest hits" offeringif one could be achieved, considering the Duke's immense outputwithout Strayhorn's gorgeous and familiar "Lush Life," "Take the 'A' Train," "Lotus Blossom," or "Chelsea Bridge."
This Side of Strayhorn is trumpeter Terell Stafford's heartfelt tribute to Ellington's indispensable partner. The set is made up of a batch of familiar Strayhorn music, as well as some lesser-known gems that shine brightly in the hands of Stafford and his marvelous ensemble. Stafford's working quintet turns in a well-lubricated effort, burning down the house on the opener, "Raincheck." Stafford and saxophonist Tim Warfield
trade stretched-out solos throughout, with the leader giving a sizzle to the melody, the sax relaxing into a snappy groove, on the bright and upbeat melody that rides high inside the rhythm section's fluid momentum, until pianist Bruce Barth
who arranged all the tunesslips into a crisp Ellingtonian piano solo.
"Smada" has a more relaxed feeling. Warfield's solo is warm and laidback, a no-worries-in-the-world affair in front of a saucy backdrop. Then Stafford takes his turn, gliding in with a gorgeous tone and a velvet flow of notes. "Lush Life," one of Strayhorn's most distinctive and best-loved tunes, unfolds in a patient way, in the loveliest fashion, a familiar forlorn lament that sounds timeless in this spare arrangement. "Multiclored Blue" recalls 1940s Ellington, with Stafford blowing jungle cat sassy with his mute, while Warfield goes down low, as cool as can be, the way Ellington's star tenor man Ben Webster