Pop-rock chameleon Joe Jackson has gathered a high-powered group of musicians from across genres and locations to pay tribute to jazz icon Duke Ellington on his latest release,The Duke.
From the onset of the recording, Jackson challenges the listener to expand their expectation of Ellington's tunes, with an easy-listening version of "Isfahan," featuring master guitarist Steve Vai, to a hot samba version of the classic "Caravan," featuring Jackson's distinct piano playing, with Iranian vocalist Sussan Deyhim handling the vocals in Farsi.
Though he is known for the eclecticism of his own recordings, from 1979's "Look Sharp" through the massively successful "Night and Day" (featuring the classic, "Steppin' Out"), with forays into the world of rock opera (1997's "Heaven and Hell") and instrumental music (2000's "Symphony No. 1," which earned Jackson a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album,) his song choices were conservative on this album. With the exception of his medley of "The Mooche" and "Black and Tan Fantasy"; early representations of Ellington's "Jungle Sound" of the 1920's, also featuring Vai, along with Christian McBride on Bass, and Ahmir '?uestlove' Thompson (of The Roots) on Drums.
The guests take center stage for the majority of the songs, including Brazilian Lilian Vieira's Portugese translation of "Perdido," but Jackson does feature himself on vocals on his commercial arrangement of "I'm Beginning to See the Light" and "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)." He ends the set trading vocals with the "Godfather of Punk," Iggy Pop, on "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got that Swing)," which ironically creates one of the more accessible arrangements on the release.
The liner notes are from Jackson himself, and highlight Ellington's lifelong commitment to innovative music across the color barrier, as well as an articulate tabulation of the different musical periods of his career, until his death in 1967. From his piano-based rock to his symphonies, Jackson has added a new layer to the commercial-jazz crossover world with this disc.
"The Duke" would be proud.
CD and Digital formats
Razor & Tie