Thursday, January 18, 2018
Dial & Oatts - Rich DeRosa -The WDR Big Band
Produced in cooperation with the maestro's family. His nephew, Steven James, notes that "In 1979, my mother, Ruth Ellington, and I wanted to record and archive all of the Tempo Music catalogue. This included compositions by my uncle, Duke Ellington, and many of his musical associates. We hired Garry Dial to do this job. I am thrilled, that after 38 years, Garry has revisited the more obscure tunes of Duke Ellington."
The trio of Garry Dial - piano, arranger; Dick Oatts - soprano sax, alto sax, flute, arranger and Rich DeRosa - conductor, arranger, big band orchestration undertook this task, but in a manner that did not try to simply recreate the Ellington sound and try to bring something original in a manner that the Duke did when approaching the classical repertoire as he did with Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, stating "Rediscovered Ellington is presented in the same respectful manner. To continue Ellington’s legacy, we resurrected these compositions with our perspective through personalized arrangements. Although a few of them suggest a “tip of the hat” to Duke’s sound, most of these renditions showcase how quality music may be transformed into something new and refreshing while respecting the original essence of its composer. We hope you enjoy these compositions in this context."
For example the opening "Hey Baby," was originally recorded for Victor in 1946, and is a mid-tempo swinger with some sterling solos from Oatts (soprano sax), Paul Heller (tenor sax), Dial (piano) and Johan Hörlen (alto sax) as well as has multicolored shout sections from the brass section, especially heard at the closing section. "Let The Zoomers Drool," is Ellington-Hodges composition with a bluesy feel, superb Dial piano solo along with trombonist Shannon Barnett, with the Oatts-DeRosa arrangement here providing a definite Ellington Band flavor and Oatts alludes to Jonny Hodges with his alto sax towards the end. There is a pensive ballad, "I Like Singing" from a musical "Saturday Laughter" that was written with lyricist Herbert Martin, that has a lush orchestral setting and solos from Dial and Oatts (on alto sax).
The composer and arranger Onzy Matthews worked with the Duke in the late 1960s and early 1970s and likely composed most of "Just A Gentle Word From You Will Do." While probably performed live, this is the first recording of this composition with its straight-ahead melody recast (by Oatts and DeRosa) across the horn and reed sections and in addition to Dial's lively piano, there is delightful flute from Oatts and spirited, if a tad blustery, trombone by Ludwig Nuss. There are no known recordings of either "Introspection," or "Kiki." The former number is an uptempo swinger that is far from introspective and displays the Big Band's marvelous playing along with outstanding solos from Oatts and.trombonist Andy Hunter. The latter number is a jaunty showcase again for the precision and command of The WDR Big Band along with pianist Dial, Karolina Strassmeyer on alto sax, Jens Neufang's riveting baritone sax solo, and John Marshall who takes blazing trumpet solo (and what marvelous timbre he has) on another performance with a definite Ellington tinge to it.
"Love Came" is a lovely ballad that was issued first on Bob Thiele's Red Baron label (it may have been recorded in 1965 but I do not believe it was issued until a few years later), and this is a quiet, reflective performance. It is followed by "KCOR," likely one of the latter compositions of Ellington, opening in a introspective fashion before enlivened by the full band and Oatts impassioned soprano sax solo. The closing ballad, "I Must Be Mad," has wonderful interplay between Oatts on alto sax and Dial on piano, with the full band entering midway through this lovely closing number.
One might question such the approach of recasting material, that was either rare (that is had a brief public life with Ellington) or unheard, away from an Ellingtonian sound, yet one would be hard-pressed to fault any of the performances here. The trio with the celebrated The WDR Big Band, have provided strong, fresh big band performances of the lesser known, but not lesser in quality works of Duke Ellington on an important and enthralling recording.
I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375).