From His World to Mine

Dan Block

Reedman Dan Block and his musical associates have produced one of the most unusual tributes to Duke Ellington in the annals of jazz. Instead of choosing such worthy (but shopworn) standards as “Satin Doll,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing” and “C Jam Blues,” Block et al. have conspired to interpret (and not “re-create,” says Block) 13 of the Duke’s lesser-known compositions plus two by his alter ego, Billy Strayhorn, whose “Kissing Bug” from 1945 opens the disc. Recorded at four different sessions with various musicians and featuring the leader’s clarinet, alto and tenor saxes with the core group—pianist Mike Kanan, guitarist James Chirillo, vibraphonist Mark Sherman, bassist Lee Hudson and drummer Brian Grice—Block has, as he puts it, “highlighted these pieces in … a unique and unusual way.” Indeed, not to have included any brass is yet another bold step. The music ranges from Duke’s Cotton Club era (a brace of tenor-plus-rhythm items: a relaxed “Creole Blues” and a super-lively “Cotton Club Stomp”) on through the Webster/Blanton years (a smooth “Morning Glory”), his 1941 L.A. period (a magnificent bass clarinet/pizzicato cello/guitar treatment of “Rocks in My Bed”) on up to the cheery “Second Line” (from 1971’s “New Orleans Suite”). Block’s rearrangements of Ellington’s music —and the superb playing of them—continue to resonate long after the disc ends.