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Jax Jazz Collective: Lotus Blossom: The Music of Billy Strayhorn

Dan McClenaghan By

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Duke Ellington (1899-1974)—Americas's finest bandleader, America's finest composer—released his own tribute to Billy Strayhorn, his partner in music and tune smithing. It was called ...And His Mother Called Him Bill (RCA, 1967). Ellington and Strayhorn's music was so intertwined that the Duke's less that fanatic fans might think that "Lush Life," "Take the A Train" and "Lotus Blossom" are Ellington tunes. But those classics, and many more, came from the prolific and always elegant pen of Strayhorn.

Now the Jax Jazz Collective, under the leadership of pianist Joshua Bowlus, offers up Strayhorn in a small group outing with Lotus Blossom: The Music Of Billy Strayhorn.

The group—two saxophones, one trumpet and the rhythm section—opens with an inspired take on "Take the 'A' Train." Bowlus' left hand lays down a solid, gathering-momentum, rolling- down-the tracks rhythm. A celebration of the tune ensues—exquisite ensemble work and brief, torrid solos inside the beautiful structure of the song before Bowlus' left hand brings the train back into the station.

"Ishfahan," from the Duke's wonderful but somewhat overlooked Far East Suite, features a smooth delivery some lovely three horn harmony, and "Raincheck" rolls with a percolating, saucy groove, as the Collective modernizes the classic Ellington/Strayhorn sound.

The group is every bit as adept at ballads as it is at burners. "A Flower is a Lovesome Thing" finds a moody and ruminative mood, a gray misty day with Bowlus supplying the raindrops to the delicate flower pedals.

Lotus Blossom: The Music of Billy Strayhorn, by the top notch Jax Jazz Collective, shines a bright light on new facets on the Billy Strayhorn songbook.

Track Listing: Take the 'A' Train' Isfahan; Raincheck; A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing; Johnny Come Lately; Upper Manhattan Medical Group; The Intimacy Of The Blues; Lotus Blossom.

Personnel: Mike Emmert: alto saxophone; Juan Rollan: tenor saxophone; Ray Callender: trumpet (1, 5, 6, 8); Alphonso Horne: trumpet (2, 3, 4, 7); Josua Bowlus: piano, Fender rhodes; John 'Lil John" Lumpkin: drums; Stan Piper: bass.

Title: Lotus Blossom: The Music of Billy Strayhorn | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: J-Bo Records

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