Yet another centennial Duke Ellington fete, but one with a difference, as five younger musicians celebrate an aspect of Ellington's music that has always been encouraged -- interpretation. Matt Wilson (drums), David Berkman (piano), Joel Frahm (tenor/soprano sax), Ben Allison (bass), and Pete McCann (guitars) take Ellington's repertoire and stretch its parameters to the breaking point. Purists should be on their guard, but newcomers will delight in the group's extrapolations and abstractions. The CD starts beautifully with Berkman's piano leading on "Mt. Harrisa," Frahm's tenor nodding in reverent approval. On "I Got It Bad," McCann's Bill Frisell-like guitar and Wilson's tick-tock rhythm keep things jumping. The group manages to combine old-time swing with avant flourishes, such as Berkman's Monk-ish piano on "Skrontch." On the percussion-driven "Fleurette Africaine," Berkman's piano and Frahm's tenor swell and surge, while Wilson and McCann build skyscraper layers of sound. A whimsical tenor informs "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," while a forceful Berkman drives "Ad Lib on Nippon." The hardest swinger, "Wig Wise," has guitar-tenor contrasts. "Blues in Blueprint" takes an easier swing approach, with piano-bass unison lines that merge with Wilson's funk rhythms and McCann's psychedelic guitar. It's great to hear Duke's music done patently, but just as wonderful to hear musicians, in their personal reverie, trying to make it their own. Highly recommended.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos