Most four-letter words come with a negative connotation attached, but that's not always the case. When big band fans hear the word "Duke" uttered aloud, positive thoughts tend to take over and Duke Ellington
immediately comes to mind. His legendary compositions and historic recordings elevated him to the very top of the jazz world, and one need only utter that four-letter word to cheer up many a big band lover. Ellington is, without a doubt, the most well-known "Duke" in jazz, but he doesn't own a monopoly on the name. Another Duke served as an A&R man for Blue Note records from 1963 to 1971, performed as a sideman on piano on a slew of recordings for the label during this period, wrote such classics as "Cristo Redentor" and "Idle Moments," and released a string of fabulous, but underappreciated recordings under his own name. This Duke often gets slighted or overlooked, but not this time. The Other Duke: Tribute To Duke Pearson
is Swingadelic's debut for the Zoho Music label, and this little big band that packs a mean punch does right by the multi-talented Duke Pearson
. as they take on his easy-to-love tunes. The genesis for this project was bassist Dave Post's love for Pearson's music, but the entire band and its regular audience at Maxwell's in Hoboken, New Jersey, had no trouble buying into the pianist's compositions, so an album-length tribute seemed to be in order. Post and saxophonist/flautist Paul Carlon
are the primary arrangers for the project, but trombonist Rob Susman, trombonist Rob Edwards and alto saxophonist Audrey Welber
each contribute one arrangement, helping to lend different perspectives to Pearson's work.
During Pearson's prime, he managed to create music that touched on rock, the blues, hard bop and Latin stylings of the day, traditional sources of swing and more, and all of that comes through loud and clear on The Other Duke
. Southern boogaloo blues rock, with ballsy trombone and guitar solos ("Mississippi Dip") sits comfortably next to Latin-leaning music that fuses a Tijuana Brass aesthetic with a "Soul Bossa Nova"-type vibe ("Chili Peppers"). Pearson's association with trumpeter Donald Byrd
comes into play with "Duke's Mixture," "Sudel" and "Cristo Redentor," but the pianist's own Sweet Honey Bee
(Blue Note, 1966) would also seem to be a major source of inspiration for Swingadelic. A Count Basie
-meets Ellington-style swinger with superb plunger-muted trumpet ("Big Bertha"), a flute feature with a sly sound ("Sweet Honey Bee"), and a number that frames Post's bass work within a collection of short, swinging riffs ("Ready Rudy") all come from this gem of an album.
While it's highly unlikely that Pearson will ever usurp the top spot on the Duke list, he certainly deserves to be considered better than second-rate. He made many invaluable contributions to jazz and his music wasto quote Ellington"beyond category." Now, thanks to Dave Post and the rest of the Swingadelic crew, Duke Pearson's music can be heard anew.