Don Braden / Braden-Rapp / Mark Rapp

The Strayhorn Project

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The music of Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington may still not be widely recognized by youth culture, as it was similarly by an older generation who found it too progressive. Saxophonist Don Braden and trumpeter Mark Rapp -- themselves from Gens X & Y - found it appropriate and a lot of fun to update Strayhorn's melodies with funkier beats and a fresh approach. With the exceptional pianist Gerald Clayton, Braden, and Rapp are really hitting on all cylinders during this exciting program of music taken from the '40s headlong into 2010. Their versions of "Rain Check" or a 6/8 metered reggae-flavored "Johnny Come Lately" could easily be heard in a dance hall. Centered in modal territory via Clayton's marvelously inventive piano, a take on Strayhorn and Ellington's immortal "Satin Doll" and "Isfahan," or the Latin-tinged, much more obscure "Lament for Javanette" -- a feature for young gun Rapp -- are precious reminders of how modernism from 50-plus years past is still able to be reinterpreted. Braden's tenor is always vital and substantive, but his flute playing bears close attention on the surreal "Daydream," and a Herbie Hancock "Maiden Voyage"-styled "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing." Rapp's playing is not so much distinctive as complementary to Braden, while vocalist Sachal Vasandani is also similarly included as a sidebar on three selections. Overall this is a very fine album offering plenty of surprises, and should deserve a follow-up with perhaps different composers in mind.

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