Online since August 2002

Ellington's music brought to new life

Reviewed September 2005

By Ted Howe

Summit Records: 2005

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

Nothing gets to the heart and soul of a composition like a top-notch piano trio. Edward Kennedy ("Duke") Ellington, one of the greatest American composers, wrote classic tunes, but he rarely recorded them in the trio format – with "Money Jungle," teaming the maestro with bassist Charles Mingus and drummer Max Roach, standing out as the rare exception. Duke's orchestra, on hundreds of recordings, was his main instrument.

Pianist Ted Howe, a long-time Ellington acolyte, takes some of the Duke's most beloved tunes into the trio format &150; and the result is a gorgeous and vibrant set, reverent and forward-looking at the same time.

The disc opens with "Things Ain't What They Seem to Be," bouncy and bluesy and light-hearted, before it takes "Caravan" into a darker territory that brightens along the way – a nine-and-a-half minute exploration of the essence of the composition, maintaining the spirit of the Duke while infusing it with the trio's lively, relaxed personality. Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss" might be the loveliest tune ever written. Howe and Company approach it with a religous delicacy it deserves, a gentle pulse of the bass and whispering drums behind Howe's beautiful keyboard work.

The trio covers "Sophisticated Lady" ( with a Latin tinge), "In a Sentimental Mood," "It Don't Mean a Thing if It Ain't Got That Swing" and "In My Solitude" – evoking Brahms and Brazil, featuring drummer Jerry Fields on the cajon, a box-like percussion instrument used most often in flamenco music. "Mood Indigo" gives bassist Neal Starkey a turn on the classic melody.

Oddly, this disc almost didn't happen. Howe and his trio began to record this set for the purpose of providing a soundtrack for choreographers who were interested in putting the pianist's Ellington program to dance. Somewhere along the way, a CD came to be – luckily. This exploration of Duke Ellington's sound proves itself one of the top jazz CDs of the year.

Review by Dan McClenaghan. Dan is a writer living in Oceanside, Calif. Read his biography on his AllAboutJazz.com page.

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