Despite his crucial role in 20th century jazz and popular music as a songwriter, musician and arranger, Billy Strayhorn is still too often seen as a postscript to the Duke Ellington story -- the two collaborated for nearly three decades. If Strayhorn had done nothing else but compose Ellington's theme "Take the 'A' Train" (oddly absent from this tribute session), his place in history would still be fortified, but indeed he gave so much more. This collection features contemporary jazz musicians and vocalists interpreting 15 of Strayhorn's compositions, some co-written with Ellington or others, some penned only by Strayhorn -- most of the tracks feature one or two quartets, or a piano soloist. Those solo pieces, performed by Bill Charlap ("Fantastic Rhythm," "Valse") or Hank Jones ("Satin Doll"), as well as the two musicians' frisky duet on "Tonk," necessarily hew closely to the Ellington template, while the groups are more willing to chance modernization. But not by much -- for the most part, the arrangements stay within formats that would have been recognizable to Strayhorn. Joe Lovano -- accompanied by Jones on piano, George Mraz on bass and Paul Motian on drums -- never strays too far afield in his sax solos, and Dianne Reeves, who provides the bulk of the vocals, similarly plays it straight, her husky tone lending warmth and richness to such Strayhorn compositions as "Day Dream," "My Little Brown Book" (her playful scatting lifts the already enjoyable set up another notch), "Something to Live For" and a stunning "Lush Life," on which she is supported solely by Russell Malone's guitar. Elvis Costello doesn't take a different approach to his guest vocal on the ballad "My Flame Burns Blue (Blood Count)" than he does on the many other jazz vocals he'd recorded by this time, but he's still always a pleasure to hear, his nuanced reading close to perfection and as heartfelt as everything else he does.
AllMusic Review by Jeff Tamarkin
feat: Bill Charlap
feat: Hank Jones
feat: Bill Charlap