Arranger, conductor and pianist David Matthews and the Manhattan Jazz Orchestra last saluted a master musician with "Bach 2000." With "Hey Duke!"they turn their atttention to another giant. This CD, recorded in Ellington's centennial year of 1999, is not another repertory performance. Matthews, a lifelong fan of Duke, has chosen to pay homage to him with completely independent arrangements of the original Ellington melodies. As he said, "....the constant rearrangements I had to do to avoid cribbing from earlier versions of the music was the hardest work I had ever done."
Ellington, who led a conventional big band, broke away from the confines of sections by using unusual combinations of instruments to produce musical color. Matthews' orchestra is not your usual big band and gets its flavor from unconventional instrumentation-tuba, french horns and bass clarinet. Both orchestras make full use of superior and individualistic soloists. You know who Duke's were. Here they are trumpeters Ryan Kisor and Lew Soloff, Jim Pugh on trombone and,on reeds, Aaron Heick and Chris Hunter.
The band is a brassy powerhouse, the arrangements exciting. This CD includes Matthews' personal tribute to Duke, "Song for Edward" and seven Ellington compositions, ranging from a definitely "got it! " version of "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing"to "In a Sentimental Mood" which shifts from contemplation to high energy and back. "Cottontail" becomes a feature for Kisor on muted trumpet and Hunter on alto. The soaring soprano of Christine Sperry captures the mood of Kay Davis of yesteryear, but with words, in a lovely "Come Sunday." "Mood Indigo"is given an electric rock-beat and jungle trumpet setting, far removed from Duke's solemn trombone/trumpet/clarinet trio. That makes it the most intriguing arrangement on this CD.
I don't know if Dr.Joyce Brothers has ever been quoted in a review before, but here goes! " Listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery." Matthews listened and like Duke he produced something original. That's the definition of respect.