On Monday nights, Madrid´s premier jazz venue hosts The Dukaband, an 11 piece group that plays the music of Duke Ellington with a horn line up that includes tuba, trombone, two trumpets, baritone, tenor and alto saxophones.
I went expecting to hear faithful renditions of Duke´s work in the style of the period but quickly realized that the themes and structures of Ellington´s compositions were used as a starting point for wild creativity in approach, orchestrations and style. The group features some of the most respected members of the Madrid Jazz community who have come from most of Latin America including Argentina, Uruguay, Columbia as well as Spain and the USA.
They play standard Ellington fare but every tune is completely surprising, restructured and recomposed with rich, thick voicings and journeys into contemporary free jazz areas. The Ellington melodies are used as jumping off points into new territory. This band is all about the arrangements who were all done by a Japanese woman pianist and composer, Yumiko Murakami who met the Dukaband bassist while she was at The Berklee School of Music in Boston. At that time she was leading her own band playing her original music. She relocated to Spain and 3 years ago suddenly and unexpectedly died leaving a wealth of arrangements and compositions.
The music is so alive, so brilliant and just so fun to play that these top musicians gather several times a month, for obviously almost no money to play these charts to a small but very appreciative audience. The second half of the night they were joined by Columbian vocalist Martha Patricia who is a powerhouse vocalist with the chops and big voice to complement any big band. She did a beautiful version of Joni Mitchell´s tribute to Mingus, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat as well as Ellington standards such as "It Don´t Mean a Thing," "I Got It Bad" and "Take the A Train." She knows about dynamics and sells a song like the best of diva´s. These are European and Latin American artists giving a loving tribute to both a Black American composer and a Japanese arranger. It all comes together in a unique and moving mix.
This band and these arrangements need to be documented and appreciated by a larger audience. Yumiko Murakami was obviously a great talent who´s life was cut short but who lives in the artistry and heart of the Dukaband Plays Ellington.