After admiring each other's playing from afar for years, Danish bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and American pianist Mulgrew Miller got together in 1999 to record a promotional album of Duke Ellington
numbers for the hi-fi company Bang & Olufsen.
They enjoyed it so much that the following year they got together again for a world tour. This included the North Sea Jazz Festival at the Hague in Holland where the nine tracks on this fine double album were recorded.
Mik Neumann, Pedersen's sound engineer, found himself in awe at "the degree of profundity in their interplaya talent that demands years of experience. At the same time, thanks to their ability to swing, and their inbred musicality, the music was also immediately accessible.
"Not once during the tour did they sit down and discuss what they were going to playit materialized on stage, in the moment."
The set opens with Benny Golson
's lovely minor key ballad, "Whisper Not," written in just 20 minutes while Golson was playing at George Wein's Storyville club in Boston with Dizzy Gillespie
's big band.
Miller's opening statement of the theme reflects his gospel background in Mississippi when his main man was Ramsey Lewis
. Later, as his technique grew more formidable, Miller began listening to Oscar Peterson
, thenfurther down the lineMcCoy Tyner
. These influences can all be heard in his fascinating exploration of Golson's song.
Pedersen stays out of Miller's way on this one, but comes slowly to the fore as the set progresses with Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady," actually written as a tribute to three
ladies, Duke's grade school teachers in Washington. "They taught all winter and toured Europe in the summer. To me that spelled sophistication," Ellington explained.
"Mood Indigo," which follows, starts obliquely, but then gets briskly down to business, though in the process changing the original intention of the number, written by Duke and clarinetist Barney Bigard
as "Dreamy Blues." The title was later changed to accomodate Irving Mills' lyric.
It's a big ask for a duoeven one of this calibreto hold an audience's interest and their version of Jerome Kern's "All The Things You Are" tends to ramble before Billy Strayhorn's "Take The A Train" puts things back on track. It's incredible to think that Duke's son Mercer rescued Strayhorn's masterpiece from a trash can where the author had discarded it because he thought it sounded too much like a Fletcher Henderson
CD 2 kicks off with another Jerome Kern composition, "I'm Old Fashioned," featuring a beautiful introduction by Miller, who later tries just that little bit too hard to say something new about a ballad that's been recorded by legions of pianists.
Pedersen states the theme of Ellington's "Solitude" ably underpinned by Miller, with neither man straying too far from Duke's lovely, catchy melody.
CD1: Whisper Not; Sophisticated Lady; Mood Indigo; All The Things You Are; Take The A Train. CD2: I’m Old Fashioned; In My Solitude; Autumn Leaves; Caravan.