Fans of Duke Ellington
who think they've heard it all should prepare themselves for a most pleasant surprise: a treasure-trove of "rediscovered" songs composed or co-written by Ellington, several of which had never before been recorded, wonderfully performed by Germany's world-class WDR Big Band conducted by Rich DeRosa
and featuring the prodigious talents of guests Garry Dial
on piano and Dick Oatts
on alto and soprano saxophones and flute.
The story behind that rediscovery dates to 1979 when Dial was hired by Ellington's sister Ruth and her son, Stephen James, to archive the Duke's Tempo Music catalog, which included compositions by Ellington and many of his musical associates. In 2015, when DeRosa, who was chief conductor and arranger for the WDR Big Band, contacted Dial about collaborating with Oatts and the ensemble on a new venture, Dial thought of the many overlooked gems by Ellington lying unused in his filing cabinets and suggested to DeRosa that he and Oatts record a number of them with the WDR Big Band. Hence, the idea of Rediscovered Ellington
was born and brought to fruition.
The task of orchestrating Ellington's charts fell to DeRosa, and to say that he did so with dexterity and awareness would be to understate the case. Every number on this radiant album shines with the sort of luster one associates with Ellington the musical architect. In fact, one of the biggest surprises here is why and how these persuasive essays are so little known and seldom heard. There are no "throwaways" or afterthoughts; to the contrary, every one of these eloquent themes underscores Ellington's acknowledged brilliance as a jazz composer, as do the exemplary summations by Dial, Oatts, DeRosa and the orchestra.
There is no point in recounting the album's highlights, as every number qualifies for the accolade. Among those heard on record for the first time are the tender ballad "I Like Singing," written with lyricist Herbert Martin for the musical Saturday Laughter
; the smooth-flowing "Just a Gentle Word from You Will Do," written mostly by arranger Onzy Matthews
; the free and easy "Introspection," forceful "Kiki" and atypical "KCOR" ("rock" spelled backward), probably written, according to the liner notes, late in Ellington's life. The session closes with another ballad, "I Must Be Mad," a handsome showcase for Dial's expressive piano and Oatts' burnished alto.
Oatts revisits the alto on "Let the Zoomers Drool," "I Like Singing," "Introspection," "Kiki" and "Love Came," pivots to soprano on "Hey, Baby" and "KCOR," and to flute on "Just a Gentle Word," while Dial solos on every track save "Kiki." As for the WDR, its blue-ribbon soloists include altos Johan Horlen ("Hey, Baby") and Karolina Strassmeyer ("Kiki"), tenor Paul Heller
("Hey, Baby"), trombonists Shannon Barnett
("Zoomers"), Ludwig Nuss ("A Gentle Word") and Andy Hunter
("Introspection"), trumpeters Ruud Breuls
("Introspection"), John Marshall
("Kiki") and Andy Haderer ("KCOR"), baritone Jens Neufang and bassist John Goldsby
("Kiki"). The WDR as a whole is spotless, DeRosa's charts splendid, Dial and Oatts superb, and Rediscovered Ellington,
subtitled "New Takes on Duke's Rare and Undiscovered Music," is one of the outstanding "reissues" of this or any other year.
Hey, Baby; Let The Zoomers Drool, I Like Singing; Just A Gentle Word
From You Will Do; Introspection; Kiki; Love Came; KCOR; I Must Be Mad.
Garry Dial: piano, arranger; Dick Oatts: soprano sax, alto sax, flute,
arranger; Rich DeRosa: conductor, arranger, big band orchestrations;
Johan Horlen: alto sax, flute, clarinet; Karolina Strassmayer: alto sax,
flute; Olivier Peters: tenor sax, clarinet; Paul Heller: tenor sax, clarinet;
Jens Neufang: bari sax, bass sax, bass clarinet; Andy Haderer: lead
trumpet; Wim Both: alt lead trumpet; Rob Bruynen: trumpet; Ruud
Breuls: trumpet; John Marshall: trumpet; Ludwig Nuss: lead trombone;
Shannon Barnett: trombone; Andy Hunter: trombone; Mattis
Cederberg: bass trombone, tuba; John Goldsby: bass; Hans Dekker: