Various Artists

Ellingtonia: Justin Time Toasts Duke

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Canadians loved Duke Ellington just as much as Americans, as evidenced by these 11 tracks culled from the two decades of recordings by the Justin Time label. Most leaders are born Canucks, save Johnny O'Neal, Denny Christianson, Hilario Duran, and Ranee Lee, who have all lived north of the border for considerable periods. The pianists are most impressive. Oliver Jones and his trio rip up a live take on "Take the 'A' Train." Oscar Peterson is his usual extraordinary self with bassist Dave Young on "In a Mellow Tone." Both Johnny O'Neal and Hilario Duran play solo works that start tender and inexplicably turn into searching, frantic, note-flailing exercises, then back to somber. O'Neal's target for hard boogie is "Come Sunday," while Duran's object of emphasis with bravado is "Lush Life." The lone original, "Duke's Choice," played by pianist Jon Ballantyne, is full of sorrow and regret, a true blues for Duke. Closest to pure Ellington is Denny Christianson's big-band treatment of "Sophisticated Lady," while vocal angels Ranee Lee and Diana Krall rap rhapsodically, Lee on a longing "In a Sentimental Mood," Krall from her salad days of 1993 with a soft-but-firm advance warning on "Do Nothin' 'Til You Hear from Me." The most poignant tribute is the late saxophonist Fraser MacPherson's "Chelsea Bridge," where walls of tears come tumbling down at the behest of this unsung hero of a jazzman. Others on this compilation include the trio Free Trade and saxophonist Dave Turner. It's a nice collection of Ellington tunes, a good cross-section of Canadian mainstream jazz artists, and a fine representation of how Dukish we'd all like to be when we grow up.

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