Friday, November 10, 2017

Dial & Oatts, Rich DeRosa and the WDR Big Band--Rediscovered Ellington

Like most jazz lovers, I have a ton of Duke Ellington recordings in my collection. That includes original live and studio recordings, of course, but also a lot of tributes from other artists. Once you start becoming an Ellington completist, there's seemingly no end to the recordings you can find. So when I see a new CD that is subtitled "New Takes on Duke's Rare and Unheard Music," I instantly think that I've still probably heard it all before--just not in this particular package.

This new CD, Rediscovered Ellington, from arrangers Garry Dial, Dick Oatts and Rich DeRosa, is meant to pay tribute to the lesser known Ellington songs by offering them with totally new arrangements. Dial, Oattes and DeRosa are purists somewhat, and their goal was to preserve the essence of what made Ellington such an original. In other words, they aren't revisionists--it's almost as if they're adding an extra ingredient to the recipe in order to elevate these nine tracks into something more whole. These songs, as a result, as perfectly rendered as Ellington tunes and even casual fans should recognize them as such. You've just never heard them before...unless you're one of those crazy completists.

The result is highly polished and precise, of course. Oatts, who was in charge of arranging these tunes for the WDR Big Band, paid special attention to selecting soloists whose style matched the tone of each passage. When you hear a particular solo improvisation, it sounds relaxed and natural as if the musician was famous for playing that specific song in his own unique way. And when you have three arrangers working together on a big project like this, you bet the pieces all fit together perfectly.

My only reservation is the sound quality, which is merely good. This album is from the Zoho label, which has released some sonic gems over the last year. Rediscovered Ellington is a little bright, a little flat and it just doesn't open up like a big band recording should with a sense of almost unlimited dynamics. But if you're an Ellington fan, you won't mind. Seeing these "lesser" tunes get their chance in the spotlight is very exciting, which is certainly the point.

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