Various Artists

Rare Beauty: Intimate Gems of Duke Ellington

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With an abundance of Duke Ellington tribute CDs arriving in the market during 1999 and 2000 to celebrate (or take advantage of) the centennial of the maestro's birth (he was born in 1899), many of them seemed a bit opportunistic. Fortunately, this 13-song collection is wide-ranging, with a variety of talented artists and strong arrangements, and not just a collection of the same old popular works. Joel Forrester, leader of groups like the Microscopic Septet and People Like Us, is heard playing the obscure "Lost in Meditation" and the also infrequently heard "Black Butterfly" with finesse and sensitivity. The jaunty take of "Volupté" pairs pianist Bill Dobbins with the underrated tenor saxophonist Ernie Krivda. Guitarist Bob Ferrazza's solo impression of "A Single Petal of a Rose" is a masterpiece; equally enjoyable is his accompaniment for singer Ki on "A Hundred Dreams From Now." Baritone saxophonist Claire Daly, formerly of the big band Diva, caresses the nearly forgotten ballad "Melancholia." The often aggressive guitarist Frank Vignola has just the right touch on "I Never Felt This Way Before; Joe Ascione's crisp brushwork and bassist Phil Palumbi's solid rhythm add just the right shadings. Simply put, there isn't a bad track on the entire CD. Highly recommended.

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