Dan Block is an exceptionally talented reed player, a stylish arranger and composer, a skilful bandleader and a valued sideman. He's worked with Michael Feinstein, Rosemary Clooney and Clark Terry, among others, and has also performed for Broadway shows and Hollywood movies, but he has never achieved the widespread recognition his talent deserves. From His World To Mine: Dan Block Plays The Music Of Duke Ellington should change that. It is, quite simply, gorgeous.
Block has drawn together a fascinating collection of Ellington tunes, avoiding the routinely reworked in favor of some lesser-known, but still beautiful, compositions. The selection covers a period from the early '30s to the '70s, with the majority of the tunes coming from the '40s. Block's arrangements add some contemporary twists to the songsmostly Ellington compositions, plus three by Billy Strayhornwhile his choice of musicians is also on the money. The interplay between the various combinations is a joy and Block perfectly matches instrumental lineups to the moods and styles of his chosen tunes.
In his fascinating sleeve notes Block writes fondly of the late '40s, a "somewhat neglected" period from which he takes five or six tunes. They include the lovely Strayhorn ballad, "Change My Ways," which Block combines with another Strayhorn composition, 1957's "All Heart," played as a duet with pianist Mike Kanan. The third Strayhorn tune, 1945's "Kissing Bug," is a cheery, up-tempo, number which benefits from some swinging drums and percussion from Brian Grice and Renato Thoms.
The remaining tunes demonstrate Ellington's masterful abilities as a composer and showcase Block and his fellow musicians' undoubted qualities as players. Block's superb clarinet playing is highlighted on the amusing, sparky and decidedly upbeat "Old King Dooji," his performance lyrical and melodic, while James Chirillo's deft and swinging acoustic guitar playing on "Portrait of Bert Williams" is a delight.
"Mt Harrissa" is, perhaps, the least Ellingtonian arrangement of the set. Originally part of Ellington's "Far East Suite," Block invests it with a samba rhythm, giving his own tenor saxophone playing a touch of Stan Getz and sharing the melody with Mark Sherman's crystal-clear, sparkling, vibes. The list could go on, for there isn't a weak spot to be found.
From His World To Mine: Dan Block Plays The Music Of Duke Ellington may not be the slickest album title ever created, but every other aspect of this recording is a joy. Block's song choices give the spotlight to some lesser-known Ellington tunes, and his arrangements ensure that they have a modern sound while still remaining true to the spirit of the originals. The musicianship of Block and his fellow artists has warmth as well as technical skill, creating a superbly crafted, feel-good, album on every level.
Kissing Bug; New York City Blues; Old King Dooji; Morning Glory; Are You Stickin'?; The Beautiful Indians; Suburbanite; Ballad Medley (All Heart / Change My Ways); Portrait of Bert Williams; Mt Harrissa; Creole Blues; Cotton Club Stomp; Rocks in my Bed; Second Line.
Dan Block: clarinet, bass clarinet, Eb clarinet, Bb clarinet, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone; Mike Kanan: piano; Lee Hudson: bass; James Chirillo: guitar; Brian Grice: drums; Mark Sherman: vibes (1, 2, 5, 10, 14); Renato Thoms: percussion (1, 2, 5, 10, 14); Pat O'Leary: cello (6, 9, 13).
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