This is another Duke Ellington album that honors the great man's centennial year, featuring three musicians based in Great Britain. The group performs some of Ellington's lesser-known and rarely performed works. For instance, there is "Go Away Blues," composed in 1943, which James Lincoln Collier calls in his Ellington biography "an execrable pop tune" with "appallingly" bad lyrics. Compared to what else was being written in 1943, like the Gershwin Brothers' ditty, "Could You Use Me?," or that great American classic "Mairzy Doats," "Go Away Blues" isn't all that bad. And Louise Gibbs does a nice job with it, doing some intelligent scatting. But as the first track, it hints of a problem which runs through the entire session: In an attempt to have a go at counter melodies, more often than not, the album wanders. Tony Coe meanders along without any relevance to what Gibbs is singing. And when Gibbs and Coe jazz up the proceedings, Brian Priestley's piano doesn't get on board, continuing to play in a style more suitable for cabaret. It's as if each of them recorded separately and the results were thrown together on a single CD.
There are some good things here, however, whether by design or by accident. "I Let a Song Go out of My Heart" starts off with Gibbs a cappella, and then Coe comes in with his soprano saxophone to make this a real swinger. On "Rhumm Bop" from Ellington's "A Drum Is a Woman" suite, Gibbs engages in a dubbed wordless vocal duet. With Coe's floating, sassy clarinet matching her note for note, this is a fun outing. Priestley's piano, finally, provides proper background for Gibbs' plaintive rendering of "Day Dream." Gibbs' rendition of "Strange Feeling" from "The Perfume Suite" is both pensive and probing, making it another one of the set's more interesting cuts. But it is "The Blues" from Duke's Black, Brown and Beige, that justifies purchasing this album. This song becomes an intimate, soulful conversation between Gibbs' voice and Coe's tenor, resulting in a gem of a performance.