"Dancing With Duke: An Homage to Duke Ellington" not only celebrates the music of the late jazz legend (1899-1974); it is also a tribute to the joy of making music, dancing, and to life itself. The John Brown Trio consists of Brown on bass, Cyrus Chestnut on piano, and Adonis Rose on drums and percussion - a stellar group of super-musicians who became friends nearly twenty years ago. Cyrus Chestnut has become a bit of a legend in his own right, and, like Brown, has a background in classical music as well as jazz. All three have an enormous respect for and love of Duke Ellington’s music and his influence on generations of musicians, and this homage truly comes from the hearts and spirits of all three artists. The ten tracks are some of Ellington’s best-known classics, yet The John Brown Trio breathes new life into the music with fresh interpretations in their own distinctive styles. It’s a fascinating and inspiring body of work that demonstrates Ellington’s compositional versatility as well as the versatility of the musicians. There are several high-energy tracks, but there are also slow, sensuous pieces that can elicit a deep sigh.
"Dancing With Duke" begins with “In A Mellow Tone,” a song recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, Manhattan Transfer, and Louis Armstrong, to name a few. The easy-going but infectious tempo intensifies as the piece evolves, and all three musicians are given the opportunity to shine. With a nine-minute playing time, there is plenty of room to explore the possibilities of the piece. “Do Nothing ‘til You Hear From Me” features Brown and his bass in the lead for the first half, with Chestnut leading the second half. Effervescent and sparkling, this piece really cooks! “Pie Eye’s Blues” isn’t as well-known, but it’s one of my favorite tracks. I love piano blues, and the high energy from the bass and drums sends this one into the stratosphere. “I’m Beginning to See the Light” is a straight-ahead jazz “Ode To Joy.” Big, bouncy and full of fun, all three musicians are free to stretch out and express themselves. In the Sweet Ballad Suite, Brown combines three of Ellington’s most hauntingly beautiful pieces - “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing,” “I Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good),” and “Solitude” - to show us the more graceful and evocative side of the great Ellington. This medley is truly a highlight of the album and clocks in at about 23 minutes. On “Solitude,” Brown bows much of the melody on his bass, displaying his classical roots and showcasing this very under-appreciated instrument. The Trio picks up the tempo and closes out the set with “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” ending with a big happy grin.
"Dancing With Duke" is both inspiring and thoroughly enjoyable. Recommended!