This young, stupendously gifted French classical virtuoso follows up his Bill Evans album with a similar attempt to pull Duke Ellington into the classical repertoire, rushed out just in time for the Ellington centennial. While there are direct transcriptions, this time listeners mostly hear arrangements of tunes prepared by a battery of skilled arrangers who took the trouble to listen to Thibaudet's classical recordings to determine what would suit him best -- an approach not unlike Ellington's tailored writing for his sidemen. Yet the outcome is often the same as on the Evans CD, establishing direct links between Duke, the French Impressionists, and Rachmaninov, which perfectly reflects where this pianist is coming from. Again, Thibaudet unleashes his huge dynamic range, massive technique, and nearly infinite variety of touches in the service of the work of arrangers Jed Distler, Dick Hyman, Roger Kellaway, Larry Hochman, and Joel Silberman. Again, Thibaudet isn't afraid to overdub another piano to simulate the Ellington-Strayhorn duet on "Tonk" or to realize Kellaway's brilliantly eccentric, partially 12-tone "Fantasy on Caravan." He also takes on Ellington rarities like "The Clothed Woman," whose atonal intro and nearly swinging vamp turn it into a classical bagatelle, and a relaxed suite of three songs from the Broadway show Beggar's Holiday, as well as some Strayhorn corollaries. There is one encore to the Evans album as Distler transcribes a particularly Debussy-like Evans take on "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)." While Thibaudet remains rather inhibited in the swinging department -- though he is audibly loosening up -- one imagines that the upwardly mobile Duke would have jumped for joy to hear his songs played with such elegance and sheer sensual beauty.
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AllMusic Review by Richard S. Ginell