John Brown Trio – Dancing with Duke: An Homage to Duke Ellington – Brown Boulevard

by | Aug 10, 2011 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

John Brown Trio – Dancing with Duke: An Homage to Duke Ellington – Brown Boulevard, 69:15 ***1/2:

(John Brown – bass, producer; Cyrus Chestnut – piano; Adonis Rose – drums)

It is a given truth that Duke Ellington’s music and legacy will go on forever. Every year there are live concerts, studio projects and written texts which celebrate what he created. Case in point is the sophomore release from bassist John Brown, Dancing with Duke: An Homage to Duke Ellington, a ten-track, 69-minute tribute which features Brown and his two friends, pianist Cyrus Chestnut and drummer Adonis Rose.

Although this is the first time the three have collaborated as a unit, Rose, Brown and Chestnut have known each other for a long while and have crossed paths over two decades. Gauged by the results, the association is overdue and hopefully can be aligned again.

For any recording which presents Ellington’s compositions, one question is: what does someone not record? After all, there is so much to choose from. Brown has opted for the most part to stay with familiar pieces. The only uncommon tune might be “Pie Eye’s Blues.” While the threesome does not change any of Ellington’s melodies they do offer a few different arrangements to some of the material, which gives the proceedings a slight spin from some expectations.

The opener, “In a Mellow Tone,” has a concrete but cozy feel via Brown’s bass, Chestnut’s left-hand chords and Rose’s lyrical time keeping. Things get energized on the brightly waltzing “Do Nothing ‘til You Hear From Me,” fronted by Brown’s resourceful bass work and backgrounded by Chestnut’s piano comping. The tempo gradually ignites to a fast swing before ebbing, and then picks up at the end to a roused-up climax.

Brown, Chestnut and Rose also do nicely on the late-night rumination, “Pie Eye’s Blues,” which has a soulful sway centered by an easygoing bass groove and Chestnut’s unwinding, honky-tonk piano runs, which conjure an early morning jam session. Brown’s mid-section bass solo evokes the spirit of another bassist, Ray Brown, due to a fluid flow and a complementary technique. Near the finish, Rose showcases his skills during a short but memorable solo.

Two upbeat highpoints are an unpredictably lively take of “Isfahan” and an openly expressive “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing).” Chestnut is particularly striking on “Isfahan,” where he demonstrations his dexterity and aplomb, both of his hands flying across the keyboard. “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing)” does not harbor any surprises but it is impossible not to enjoy the rollicking arrangement and the cheerful melody.

The definite highlight, though, is the Sweet Ballad Suite, where Brown brings together three of the most beautiful pieces associated with Ellington. The suite commences with Chestnut introducing Billy Strayhorn’s melancholic “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing,” where Chestnut utilizes a shadowy keyboard quality, which is then underscored when Rose incorporates malleted drums and his opaque cymbal accents, and Brown starts a legato bass line. The trio maintains a nearly mournful mood with a slow, almost bluesy ambience during “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good).” Sometimes broken hearts cannot be mended and this arrangement perceptively reflects that sentiment. The dusky demeanor continues with “Solitude,” which spotlights Brown’s classically-tinged arco bass playing and Rose’s corresponding brushwork.

Engineer Rick Dior’s warm production accentuates everything Brown does on his 1929 Hawkes Panormo double bass – from passionate plucked notes to graceful arco bowing – while Dior also provides a resounding tone to Chestnut’s piano –which rings with crystalline clarity – and Rose’s supple cymbals and brushes.

1. In a Mellow Tone
2. Do Nothing ‘til You Hear From Me
3. Perdido
4. Pie Eye’s Blues
5. Isfahan
6. I’m Beginning to See the Light
Sweet Ballad Suite:
    7. A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing
    8. I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)
    9. Solitude
10. It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing)
— Doug Simpson

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