added: 10 Jan 2013
// release date: 1 Oct 2012 // label: Ear Music
reviewer: Claudia A
It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing! Luckily, Joe Jackson’s
latest work, a highly ambitious and unusual take on Duke Ellington
classics, swings rather nicely, albeit not in a way you might expect.
While the album has been out since July last year, it got a second run when it was well and duly promoted alongside Joe Jackson’s ‘The Duke Tour’ back in October/November.
For Jackson, a self-confessed admirer of the jazz legend since his adolescence, it was only a question of time (and perhaps one of musical maturity) to dish out his own interpretations at some point, and we’re all thrilled that that point arrived a few months ago.
It’s fair to say that it requires a somewhat open mind to appreciate Jackson’s approach to Ellington… His versions might be many things, but ‘straightforward’ is not a word that fits the description.
Just like Ellington’s own music can be considered eclectic to the point that it refuses to fit into any ready-made category, Jackson has opted to do much of the same with ‘The Duke’
. As he states: “Nothing is sacred, and anything can be rearranged and reinvented. God knows what Duke would have thought of all this, but I like to think he would at least have been amused.”
The result sees fifteen Ellington classics freely reworked and squeezed into ten tracks. That’s pretty unusual in itself, but we’ve barely started yet: in keeping with Ellington’s multiculturalism, Jackson also encouraged Iranian singer Sussan Deyhim
to perform ‘Caravan’, while Brazilian Lilian Vieira
was called aboard to deliver a sunny samba/bossa nova version of ‘Perdido’.
As Jackson explains, the original lyrics to both ‘Caravan’ and ‘Perdido’ are so awful (Mr. Ellington was apparently not a great lyricist) that it was decided to translate them into Farsi and Portuguese for this album. Furthermore, Jackson has deliberately opted not to use any horn arrangements in order to avoid competing with the master. Competing with the master?
‘I’m Beginning To See The Light’ features Jackson’s voice (in English, naturally) and has a little Django Reinhardt gypsy jazz incorporated, while opener ‘Isfahan’ – an electronic/instrumental affair – sports the talent of American rock guitarist Steve Vai
. Bli-blip, what would the Duke make of it were he still amongst us?
‘Rockin’ In Rhythm’ is a bow to ragtime, and Sharon Jones
belts out to great effect on combo ‘I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But The Blues/Do Nothin’ ‘til You Hear From Me’.
Jackson once again croons on the moody and harmony-laden ‘I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good), with the harmonica play adding to the richness.
Steve Vai on lead and solo guitar, as well as Vinnie Zummo
on rhythm guitar turn ‘The Mooche/Black And Tan Fantasy’ into something, err, very interesting and captivating, but not something you’d really associate with Ellington.
Closing track ‘’It Don’t Mean A Thing…’ is – in spirit - probably the one song on the album which comes closest to the original, but even here Jackson throws a surprise at us: a collaboration with Iggy Pop
! Yep, Jackson and the former Stooges
frontman both collaborate on vocals, while Lilian Vieira contributes the ‘doo wah’ on the backing vocals. Once again, some lively gypsy jazz rhythms run through the arrangement, and whatever else runs through the arrangement. Point is, it works!
On that note, feel free to step out and do that swing.
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