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Pioneering trumpeter, composer Cuong Vu and pianist Richard Karpen push the envelope by not releasing a cut and dry tribute to Duke Ellington and his counterpart Billy Strayhorn . With a standard jazz quartet supported by iPad and electronics performers, to say this album follows mainstream jazz guidelines would be a miscue of sorts. Unconventional wisdom and atypical treatments accentuate this production of three Ellington-Strayhorn compositions and several originals by the quartet.
According to Vu, the spirit of Ellington and Strayhorn presided during the recording session, amid references to the music taking on the semblance of an extended tone poem. As a whole, the album tenders a syndicate of alternating currents with numerous contrapuntal episodes by the frontline. With Poor's temperate percussion maneuvers and unearthly electronics effects garnishing the jazz improvisation component, these Ellington cogitations span transcendental soundscapes that are asynchronously plaited into Vu's tone poem inference. However, the rhythm section peppers several motifs to induce an undulating cycle of events. On "Duke," Vu's swaggering bop lines rides above a gradual buildup, imparting a rather devious scenario. And "Charles" is gelled by his rifling and scratchy notes marked by a ballsy gait and offset by a bizarre world-beat motif along with Karpen's contrasting chord clusters.
The ensemble operates within variable rhythmic metrics, inflated by the drummer's swarming press rolls and the pianist's thunderous cadenzas as the electronics performers occasionally smear the proceedings with darting and sinuous patterns. In addition, the three Ellington-Strayhorn classics are regenerated with existential melodic phrasings and moody choruses. On a side note, the dusky audio characteristics can sometimes generate a bit of listening fatigue. Otherwise, it's a valiant concept, interspersed with fuming passages, impassioned interludes, and wraithlike progressions that underscore a seriously off-kilter ode to these giants of American music.
Track Listing: L’Heure Bleue; Indigo Mist; A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing; Billy; Duke; In A Sentimental Mood; Charles; Lush Life; The Electric Mist; Mood Indigo.
Personnel: Cuong Vu: trumpet; Richard Karpen: piano; Luke Berman: bass; Ted Poor: drums; Ivan Arteaga; Live Electronics iPad; Shih-Wei Lo: Live Electronics iPad; Douglas Niemela: Live Electronics iPad; Joshua Parmenter: Live Electronics iPad.