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Mercer Hassy Orchestra: Duke's Place

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Mercer Hassy Orchestra: Duke's Place
If much of the music on Duke's Place seems only vaguely familiar, that is probably because composer-arranger Mercer Hassy has taken more than a dozen songs written and/or made popular by Duke Ellington and his orchestra and turned them, for better or worse, inside out and upside down, playing with melody, harmony and rhythm but always with a clear purpose in mind, and presenting for the most part Ellington as you no doubt have never heard him before.

Luckily, there is far more better than worse here, thanks largely to Hassy's colorful charts and the ardor of his Sapporo, Japan-based orchestra, which does its best to keep the Ellington flame alive and burning brightly. Hassy (born Masahide Hashimoto) has studied the music of Ellington and Billy Strayhorn for decades and knew exactly what colors and brushes to use when the time came to add a fresh coat of paint. For the ballad "Satin Doll," that included a funky rhythmic flooring; for "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," a Motown groove; for a medley of "Prelude to a Kiss" and "In My Solitude," a choral arrangement with vocals (and sans orchestra) and so on.

The program covers the years from 1928 (the trad-flavored "Hot and Bothered") to 1956 (Strayhorn's melodious "U.M.M.G"), opening in 1933 with "Daybreak Express," whose exuberant rumble mirrors a freight train in full throttle right down to the horn, bells and whistles while spotlighting the ensemble's remarkably flexible saxophone section. "Satin Doll," "Don't Get Around Much" and "U.M.M.G." are next, followed by a more conventional arrangement of "In a Sentimental Mood" and the frenzied "Hot and Bothered."

Juan Tizol's "Bakiff" has an East Asian flow, Strayhorn's "Passion Flower" a romantic ambience buttressed in its opening moments by (unlisted) strings courtesy of Hassy's deft programming. The dynamic "Apes and Peacocks" is from Ellington's Queen's Suite, composed for Britain's Queen Elizabeth (and animated here by guest YUTA's human beat box). The medley of "Prelude" and "Solitude" leads to Hassy's rocking arrangement of "Duke's Place" (were he still alive, Bill Haley would no doubt be smiling his approval) and "Happy Go Lucky Local," which returns to the train-themed spirit of "Daybreak Express."

A word more must be said about the orchestra, as it is a very good one, especially when playing in unison. Splendid soloists too, especially Tomoya Akagawa on alto and clarinet (and whistling on "Bakiff"), tenors Ray Iwasa and Kenta Sekiguchi, baritone Naoki Era and trumpeter Hiro Kanazawa. While Ellington purists may blanch more than once, even they must admit that Hassy and company have done well by the Duke, aligning and updating his music for a new generation of listeners who may be more attuned to change and eager to reassess the wizardry of Ellington.

Track Listing

Daybreak Express; Satin Doll; Don’t Get Around Much Anymore; U.M.M.G.; In a Sentimental Mood; Hot and Bothered; Bakiff; Passion Flower; The Queen’s Suite: Apes and Peacocks; Prelude to a Kiss/In My Solitude; Duke’s Place; Happy Go Lucky Local.

Personnel

Mercer Hassy
arranger
Tomoya Akagawa
saxophone, alto
Ion Sato
saxophone, alto
Ray Iwasa
saxophone, tenor
Kanako Yamada
saxophone, tenor
Kenta Sekiguchi
saxophone, tenor
Naoki Era
saxophone, baritone
Satsuki Narita
trombone
Ayane Ikegami
trombone
Shiori Suzuki
trombone
Seiya Hayashi
trombone, bass
Ayane Imai
keyboards
Additional Instrumentation

Tacto Kojima: drums; Hiroshi Ueno: vocals. Guests—Nori Tani: flute (9); YUTA: human beat box (7, 9).

Album information

Title: Duke's Place | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: Self Produced


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