Double Eclipse

Double Eclipse: A Tribute to Nedly Elstak

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Nedly Elstak was born in Java, but raised in the Netherlands from the age of five. He began his career as a professional musician at the age of 18 after leaving behind the violin -- which he had played from the age of three -- for the trumpet. Elstak became, with his melodic, understated, modal style, one of the Netherlands' most cherished and well-known composers. His tone was somewhere between Miles Davis and Jack Sheldon. Elstak was also a huge fan of the innovations of the avant-garde, though he never forsook his lyricism, adopted from the swing of the late '30s and the bebop revolution of the '40s. Though he adapted the intricate melodic structures of bop, he never followed its rigorous -- and limited -- tempo constructs. Elstak was instead obsessed with pastoral tempos and elegant melodies; as a result, he used singers immeasurably throughout his career. Elstak passed away in 1989 at the age of 58. Longtime collaborator and friend, Dutch jazzer Theo Loevendie, who, curiously enough, doesn't perform on the album, lovingly assembled this tribute. He relies heavily on the music that obsessed Elstak: vocal music. Nine of the 11 tracks here are vocal. What they reveal is that had Elstak only lived in the U.S., he would have been one of the most in-demand songwriters and arrangers in jazz. His style is so deeply in line with the major vocal innovations of the day in America, and far superior in reach, accessibility, and elegance to any of his American counterparts, Quincy Jones and the Manhattan Transfer notwithstanding. That said, it must be noted that some of Elstak's lyrical concerns would not have appealed to the masses ("Suicide," "Dark Soul," etc.). The title track, set for a quartet of vocalists and a piano trio, is a case in point. With its long, graceful verses, it allows for vocalists to reach for each note and emotionally expressive nuance, and caress them with gentle, swinging, four-part, contrapuntal harmony, and clipped, though expansive, vocal improvisational sections. "Double Eclipse" is the epitome of melodic vanguard jazz for the human voice. "Sad Trumpets," with a quintet backing the vocal quartet, is a syncopated wonder, full of stinging, short lines played by the piano and brass, filled in with lush vocal phrasing. Though "Dark Soul"'s lyrics are desolate and disturbing, it couldn't have a more accessible melody -- full of Ellingtonian grace and bop- staccato elocution. What this tribute so wonderfully illustrates is how completely Elstak absorbed the jazz idiom, and how he created a musical language that was personal enough to satisfy him while encompassing the entire history of that music for the sake of accessibility. "Double Eclipse" is an awesome tribute to a figure who, all too sadly, was never known to the world outside the Netherlands -- and truly should have been because of his originality, grace, poise, and vision.

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