Pianist/arranger David Matthews turns his pen to the classic music of Duke Ellington on Hey Duke!, the latest release featuring the adroit talents of the Manhattan Jazz Orchestra. Matthews came up during the 1970s, when straight-ahead jazz was about as cool and mainstream as a buzz cut and pegged pants. College jazz programs were barely in their infancy but, despite the general cultural malaise regarding the music, there was still a sense that more could be done with what Bird, Monk, and Coltrane had given the world. Creativity could flow unimpeded by draconian notions of the "tradition." Granted, this didn't always produce the most lasting and desirable music, but for every Spyro Gyra there is a Weather Report. Matthews keeps this vision alive on Hey Duke! Influenced by the progressive, angular, and modern work of Stan Kenton and Chick Corea, Matthews reworks some of Ellington's songs in a respectful, albeit liberal manner. "It Don't Mean a Thing" screams itself to life, eventually laying into a speedy swing featuring the immense post-bop lines of soprano saxophonist Aaron Heick and Manhattan man about town trumpeter Ryan Kisor. One of the most compelling departures from traditional style is the police drama funk of "Mood Indigo," featuring bright horn hits and a dirty, wah-wah plunger trumpet over a driving hi-hat. Conversely, "Come Sunday" is given a pastoral, West Coast gospel feel à la Gerald Wilson, and features the operatic soprano of vocalist Christine Sperry. Matthews also pays tribute to Duke with his original "Song for Edward," a mid-tempo ballad featuring the soul-inflected alto sax of Chris Hunter. These are thoroughly invigorating and unconventional interpretations of Ellington's work.
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AllMusic Review by Matt Collar