Rather than being guests, Cleo Laine and John Dankworth have lent their names to the Duke Ellington Orchestra, giving them considerable control over the session; while Mercer Ellington is listed as leader, the conductor and principal arranger is Dankworth. One unfortunate result of this arrangement is that some of the offerings are "based on variations or adaptations" of the original Ellington and/or Billy Strayhorn compositions. Thus, "Chelsea Bridge" comes out "September Rain," and "Take the 'A' Train" is "Cleo's 'A' Train." Neither come off well -- and the latter title is presumptuous. "We're Rockin' in Rhythm" has its moments, especially Dankworth's clarinet solo in the style of Jimmy Hamilton. The best "variation" is "Love Call," based on "Creole Love Call." Laine's version in no way replaces the 1927 Adelaide Hall recording with Ellington, but her voice is well-suited to this early Duke classic. The dubbing of Ellington's piano on "Solitude" (through the wonders of technology) is just grotesque. Fortunately, Laine and Dankworth stick to the real thing for most of the cuts, putting their interpretative imprimatur on Ellington and/or Strayhorn masterpieces. Laine's reading of "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good" is one the better renderings of this tune. She seems to have an affection for this song, having recorded it at least twice before. "All Too Soon," with Barry Lee Hall's trumpet and Shelley Paul's tenor playing behind Laine, is another highlight of this session. As long as Laine and Dankworth stick to the Ellington musical script, this album is a welcome addition to the "...With the Duke Ellington Orchestra" catalog.
by Dave Nathan