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Duke Ellington's centennial has spurred the release of numerous tribute albums paying homage to him and to Billy Strayhorn and Duke Is the 1 is one of the better efforts. In addition to some of the more famous Ellington compositions, there are good performances of some not too regularly heard material which makes for a more attractive session. Akerson's compositional techniques are represented by a couple of her tunes, including the title tune, and the album's coda is a tribute from one pianist to another with Dave Brubeck's "The Duke."
While there are some slow tempo ballads present, the emphasis is on swing inflected rhythms showcasing Ellington and Strayhorn material that lends itself to this idiom. Akerson takes on "Bli-Blip," an Ella Fitzgerald inspired romp. Akerson males "I'm Checking Out, Go'om Bye" more contemporary by taking some clever liberties with the lyrics. Her handling of Ellington's signature, "Take the "A" Train", recalls Marty Paich's arrangement which he constructed for Anita O'Day. "Gypsy without a Song" is another swinger, showcasing Mike Monaghans's clarinet. Akerson uses these up tempo numbers to show off her scatting skills which enhance, not detract from, her interpretation of the lyrics.
Ackerson is supported on this album by some of the best musicians the New England area has to offer. The trumpet of the inestimable Berklee School of Music alumnus and MIT jazz educator, Herb Pomeroy, engages in an intimate conversation with Akerson's vocalizing on "I Ain't Got Nothin' But the Blues." Then there's Jon Wheatley's clean sounding guitar which is the sole accompaniment on a haunting rendition of Strayhorn's lovely classical music structured, "Chelsea Bridge". Akerson and Wheatley deliver the tune like a sonata for voice and guitar resulting in a truly unique interpretation. "I Didn't Know about You" finds Wheatley's guitar in tandem with Pomeroy's muted trumpet as they present an unusual, but telling, instrumental combination in support of Akerson, making this another of the CD's premiere tracks. But it is Bob Winter's piano that is the spinning wheel Akerson uses to weave her vocal fabric. He is prominent on virtually every cut as he sets the stage for Akerson's interpretations. Veteran drummer Jim Gwin and bassist John Lockwood, who has performed with the likes of Nick Brignola and Benny Carter, are the other members of a very good rhythm section.
Akerson is an excellent singer with a very good feel for the music and the lyrics which comes through with unmatched clarity in her delivery. This album offers a generous 60 minutes and is an easy one to recommend.
Tracks:Duke Is the1;Bli-Blip;Just Squeeze Me;Take the "A" Train;Mood Indigo;Gypsy without a Song;I Like the Sunrise;At Dawn;I Ain't Got Nothin' But the Blues; I'm Checking Out, Go'om Bye;Paris Blues;Sophisticated Lady;Chelsea Bridge;Johnny;I Never Felt This Way Before;I Didn't Know about You;In A Sentimental Mood; The Duke
Personnel: Carol Akerson - Vocals; Bob Winter - Piano; John Lockwood - Bass; Jim Gwin - Drums; Jon Wheatley - Guitar; Herb Pomeroy - Trumpet; Mike Monaghan - Tenor/Soprano Saxophones, Clarinet
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.