Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Dr.JOHN - Duke Elegant 2000
Duke Elegant certainly wasn't the only tribute to Duke Ellington put out in honor of the 100th anniversary of the legendary bandleader, nor was it even the first time Dr. John had tackled his material. But it would be hard to find a better homage than this one. Dr. John proves a surprisingly good match for Ellington's material, placing a tremendously funky foundation under the composer's tunes. The sound is dominated by the good doctor's incomparable New Orleans piano and organ, naturally, and the best tracks are those whose melodies are carried solely by his keyboard work, such as instrumentals "Caravan" and "Things Ain't What They Used to Be." The vocal cuts are fine -- his takes on the Ellington ballad "Solitude" and especially the dreamy, elegant "Mood Indigo" show off Dr. John's uniquely expressive voice as well as any of his early-era recordings -- though he occasionally tends to approach self-caricature, as on "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)." Any weakness, however, is more than made up for by the closing rearrangement of "Flaming Sword," one of three Ellington rarities here. Dr. John transforms the instrumental into a luminous, gorgeously melodic display of Professor Longhair-style piano over an astonishingly sexy New Orleans funk rhythm. Ultimately, Duke Elegant holds up both as an innovative twist on the Ellington songbook and as a solid Dr. John album in its own right.
By Kenneth Bays, All Music Guide.
Mac "Dr. John" Rebennack playing songs from the canon of Duke Ellington is as natural as the break of day. But the gris-gris king interprets Ellington in a way unlike anyone else. "Mood Indigo," arranged for Dr. John's six-man New Orleans group, takes on a fresh, heartfelt immediacy with the good doctor's vocals and piano locked into a relaxed groove. He sings another slice of essential Ellingtonia, "Do Nothing 'til You Hear from Me," with a lighthearted nonchalance that epitomizes the worthiest New Orleans performers. Dr. John packages snippets of his keyboard playing as panaceas for the soul on a funked-up interpretation of "Caravan," even spinning off on a "Wade in the Water" tangent before wrapping up the song. But with so many, many Ellington nuggets to dust off for reinterpretation, one wonders why Dr. John elected to go with popular numbers that get covered again and again. To his credit, he does serve up the lesser-known "The Flaming Sword," where his piano is luminous in the Calypso fashion of Professor Longhair, and he offers delightful, fonkified updates of the Ellington obscurities "On the Wrong Side of the Railroad Tracks" and "I'm Gonna Go Fishin'."
By Frank John Hadley.
"Duke Elegant" is a compellation of Duke Ellington songs and a tribute to a great American musician, composer and showman. It is also one of the best CD's ever put out by Dr. John, a remarkable talent in his own right. This effort has much of what Dr. John has done so well in the past -- but it also represents a breakthrough of sorts.
I have greatly admired much of Dr. John's past work. While he has extraordinary musical range, he is often at his best performing his own renditions of classic American songs. These, for me, have been most successful when he stays reasonably close to standard treatments, straying just enough to add his own distinctively subtle nuances. His versions of "I'm confessin' That I Love You", "Careless Love", "More Than You Know", and "Candy" are of this type and are remarkably successful. Much the same can be said for some of his more notable duets: "Makin' Whoppee" (with Ricky Lee Jones), "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?" (with Harry Connick Jr.), and "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby?" (with BB King). His inconceivably joyful "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" is the best I have ever heard anywhere. It should be played at every ballpark in America.
Until this CD, I have not been as impressed with Dr. John's more daring and experimental interpretations of older songs. My feeling was, that his less conventional interpretations simply get too far away from what is great in the original material. (It's possible, of course, that I just don't understand what he is doing.) I've liked some of his own work too, but not as much as his less unconventional treatments of older classics.
But this CD is a stunning success both in its more traditional renditions of Ellington's songs and in those which offer something The Duke might not himself have anticipated. For me, the best of Doc's more traditional treatments -- and it is very good indeed -- is "Solitude". But on many of the other songs -- including "It Don't Man a Thing If It Ain't Got that Swing", "Don't Get Around Much Any More", and "Mood Indigo" -- Dr. John offers interpretations that are very different but distinctive and very good. I want to say that they are nothing less than remarkable.
Almost half of the songs on this CD are purely instrumental. Dr. John's piano blends well with the sounds of a spectacularly talented group of side players -- including percussionist Cyril Baptiste, who has worked in the past with the Meters and the Neville Brothers. "Perdido", "Caravan", and "Flaming Sword" are especially good. The rhythms, especially, are strikingly precise and tight. I can't help thinking that The Duke would have loved them.
Dr. John's fans will like this one. Those who appreciate Duke Ellington will, I think, recognize something very special. Dr. John has done another service to American music and deserves to be contratulated.
By William J. Deangelis.
Cyro Baptista- Percussion
David Barard- Bass, Vocals
Bobby Broom- Guitar, Vocals
Herman V. Ernest III- Vocals, Drums (Snare)
Dr. JohnMain- Vocals,Piano
Ronnie Cuber- Saxophone
01. On The Wrong Side Of The Railroad Tracks 5:42 $0.99
02. I'm Gonna Go Fishin 5:04 $0.99
03. It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing) 5:31 $0.99
04. Perdido 5:49 $0.99
05. Don't Get Around Much Anymore 3:37 $0.99
06. Solitude 5:05 $0.99
07. Satin Doll 4:46 $0.99
08. Mood Indigo 6:55 $0.99
09. Do Nothing 'Til You Hear From Me 5:30 $0.99
10. Things Ain't What They Used To Be 6:25 $0.99
11. Caravan 6:24 $0.99
12. The Flaming Sword 5:46