Bill Ware has the freshest voice I've heard on the vibraphone in years, picking up where Gary Burton left off in making the vibes an instrument as cutting edge as saxophone, piano, etc. (No slight to Burton intended, but his post-ECM recordings just don't have that extra "zing" his oft-brilliant, unpredictable Atlantic and ECM discs have.) Ware's dancin' vibes are featured regularly in The Jazz Passengers and his own trio Vibes, but this disc in question is a duet session with fellow Passenger Marc Ribot, eclectic electric guitar whiz numero uno, with the concept being Duke Ellington's Greatest Hits. Ten of the most well-known songs by The Duke - "Mood Indigo," "C Jam Blues," "It Don't Mean A Thing," you get the idea - are swung to high heaven by this dynamic duo, as they balance "adoration of the melody"-type reverence and genuine inspired invention. They don't play it too sweet n' sappy nor do they engage in any post-mod quirky-jerky parody, gee-let's-take-these-tunes-OUT-so-we-can-flaunt-our-cheekiness jizz.
Ware and Ribot state the melody with class and flair, then engage in some swell melodic invention in their improvisations, which by the way always SWING. But they do things their own way, though: "Take The 'A' Train" goes through the Twilight Zone before it floats into the Russian Tea Room for Sunday brunch. Ware has a soft, slightly burred tone that shimmers like a sunset, but is also jovially assertive - and he knows when to lay back and pull back, something a lot of younger players could learn from. Ribot can be a merry noisemaker/prankster (refer to his recordings with John Zorn, Tom Waits and his solo stuff) but here he wails like a child of Tal Farlow here, a son of Les Paul there, caressing the melodies and often reaches into the guitar's lower registers, acting as a one-man rhythm section. With the invigorating and lusciously RICH sound these hepcats achieve, it's almost hard to believe it's just the 2 of them. My only (minor) carp is the tunes are, well, too darn familiar - I'd've loved to hear them undertake some of the obscurer gems from The Duke's catalog. Maybe next time - meanwhile, Ellington addicts, vibes fans, guitar fans, jazz duo fans: put this at the top of your shopping list. (The 60s Blue Note-ish cover is cool too.)