Bill Mays brings a fine trio and his improvisational skills to this album dedicated to the works of the inestimable Duke Ellington. Predating the Ellington centennial by three years, Mays and his trio get their licks in before the spate of Ellington tribute albums hit the racks during Duke's 100th birthday year. Mays' approach to the Ellington classics are innovative. "Satin Doll" is played in part as a tone poem and then as a ruminating sonata complete with trills and runs, with Lewis Nash playing interesting figures on the drums in the background. "Dancers in Love" is a gavotte, again with Nash's drums featured, and "Day Dream," complete with verse, emerges as a Chopin prelude. But each tune retains that special Ellington flavor; it's just that a little different seasoning has been added. Mays adds a rarely heard 1962 Ellington composition, "Wig Wise." He also honors the Duke with his own "My Azure (To Duke)," which is a variation on Duke's 1937 composition "Azure." The virtuoso highlights of the album, the "Flower Medley"'s "Little African Flower" and "Single Petal of a Rose," are played in a classical manner. John Goldsby's arco bass adds to the feeling of a chamber music setting, as does Mays' scholarly piano. On the final tune of the trilogy, Billy Strayhorn's "Passion Flower," Mays' improvising takes him so far from the melody that one wonders whether he can get back, but he does, with facility and imagination. With his sometimes unusual, but fascinating, interpretations of Ellington and Strayhorn music, Mays proves once more that great music can accommodate virtually any kind of arrangement, without diminution of power and originality. In fact, music like Ellington's begs for ingenious interpretation. On this album, Mays' arrangements and the group's playing make for a memorable Ellington Affair.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Nathan