While many musicians stick to very familiar songs from the vast repertoire of Duke Ellington and play them in a predictable manner, Dan Block takes another path. Right away one notices that the veteran multi-reed player chose many songs from the early decades of Ellington's career that have not been recorded very often by other leaders. Another strength is Block's novel arranging, starting with an Afro-Cuban introduction to the '40s vocal number "Kissing Bug" (though played as an instrumental), buoyed by strong solos by the leader on tenor, vibraphonist Mark Sherman, and the drum/percussion team of Brian Grice and Renato Thomas. Block's swinging clarinet is prominent in an updated treatment of "Old King Dooji," which also has a playful bop piano solo by Mike Kanan. Block's gritty tenor is featured in a breezy setting of "Surburbanite." The leader switches to bass clarinet for an elegant setting of "Portrait of Bert Williams," backed by a pianoless group with guitarist James Chirillo, bassist Lee Hudson, and cellist Pat O'Leary. One of the more familiar songs is "Mt. Harrissa" (from "The Far East Suite"), in which Sherman's vibes introduce the theme before Block makes his entrance with his warm tenor sax. Finally, Block overdubs an ensemble of reeds (E-flat, B-flat, and bass clarinets) plus basset horn in his lush setting of the rarely performed "The Beautiful Indians," backed by bass and cello. This enjoyable portrait of the music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn is a remarkable effort.
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AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden