The Ellington centennial has spawned yet another album honoring the master, this one by the Canadian jazz group Time Warp. The decision to cut an Ellington tribute album grew out of the group's performance at the Duke Ellington Society's Ellington 1996 program. This collection of tunes approaches Ellington from a somewhat different angle than many other Duke tributes. First, the song selections come from the less exposed corners of the Ellington catalog; over half the songs here were composed by Ellington before 1941. There is no "Satin Doll," "Mood Indigo," or "Take the A Train" on the album. Indeed, probably the most familiar tunes to non-specialists will be "Day Dream" and "Rockin' in Rhythm." Finally, while Time Warp play the music in an Ellington style, they do not ape the familiar Ellington arrangements, allowing for a very different, and entertaining, view of the music. Given that there are only four musicians -- five when guest pianist Mark Eisenman is present -- it was necessary to exploit the full capacity of each instrument and each musician to make the album work. A small group leaves the players no place to hide, but Time Warp survive very nicely. Among the album's gems is "Awful Sad." Written by Ellington in 1928, it features some wonderful bass playing by leader Al Henderson. Kevin Turcotte's trumpet and flügelhorn get a lot of attention throughout, especially on "Hot and Bothered" and "Flirtibird" (which Ellington wrote for the film Anatomy of a Murder). The last two tracks are from what Ellington called "the most important thing I've ever done," his Second Sacred Concert. "Freedom No. 5" features Mike Murley's baritone saxophone and a longish drum solo by Barry Elmes. Elmes' drums also simulate the terpsichore on "Praise God and Dance." A highlight of the session is "Rockin' in Rhythm," which starts off by staying close to the Ellington musical script but then takes off with some variations, before returning to the main theme; Eisenman's piano keeps things together here. On "Day Dream," Murley switches to a Hodges-like alto for an impressive solo. Time Warp, who have been on the jazz scene since 1979, deserve kudos for an album that brings to public attention vintage early Ellington.
AllMusic Review by Dave Nathan