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Dan Block: Dan Block Plays The Music Of Duke Ellington: From His World To Mine *

Track List

>Kissing Bug
>New York City Blues
>Old King Dooji
>Morning Glory
>Are You Stickin'?
>Beautiful Indians, The
>Ballad Medley: All Heart/Change My Ways
>Portrait of Bert Williams
>Mt. Harrissa
>Creole Blues
>Cotton Club Stomp
>Rocks in My Bed
>Second Line

Album Remarks & Appraisals:

"Bandleader and accomplished reed man Dan Block is an exponent of traditional and swing jazz, and pays homage to the music of Duke Ellingtonwith From His World To Mine: Dan Block Plays The Music Of Duke Ellington. The repertoire's avoidance of the usual Ellington standards and classics makes this a unique project unlike other tributes to the master - there is no "Satin Doll," "Sophisticated Lady," "Caravan," or "Take the A Train"; instead, lesser-known but equally impressive tunes from the '30s through the '70s, with particular focus on the '40s. There are a couple of Billy Strayhorn compositions, with the 1945 opener, "Kissing Bug," arranged to feature a bit of Latin percussion from Renato Thoms.

Known as much for his stylish clarinet play as his tenor saxophone prowess, Block also employs alto saxophone, bass clarinet and basset horn on this date, affirming his notoriety as a multi-reed specialist. Block enlists a host of players for this tribute among them, pianist Mike Kanan, guitarist James Chirillo, vibraphonist Mark Sherman, drummer Brian Grice and bassist Lee Hudson. Block chose several pieces from the '40s, a period he sees as neglected, including the soft, haunting 1947 ballad "New York City Blues," and the brief but perky "Suburbanite," from the same year, here given new life with an up- tempo color.

"All Heart" and "Change My Ways" were two rather obscure Strayhorn ballads from the '50s, and here Block blends them into one nice "Ballad Medley," performing both on clarinet and alto saxophone. "Portrait of Bert Williams" is the disc's only real blues, while "Rocks In My Bed" features a rhythm-based quartet with Chirillo, Hudson and cellist Pat O'Leary. "Mt. Harrissa" is one of the disc's not-to-be-missed pieces - an intriguing version of "Take the 'A' Train," but with a three-tone substitution framed by Sherman's superb vibraphone lines on both ends.

The swing comes shining through on the Jimmy McHugh-inspired "Cotton Club Stomp," a nod to Ellington's tenure at the famed venue, while "Creole Blues" draws its inspiration from Ellington's "Creole Rhapsody," from 1931, developing the main melody as the song's centerpiece. Other uncommon and largely unfamiliar pieces featured anew here are "Old King Dooji," "Morning Glory" and "The Beautiful Indians." Reconnecting the Ellington magic of the past to today's jazz world, From His World To Mine: Dan Block Plays The Music Of Duke Ellington is more than just a fine tribute to one of the legends of jazz, it's a spotlight on Ellington's hidden musical wonders brought, back to life through Block's talents and musicianship." -AllAboutJazz

"Stevie Wonder referred to him as "the king of all" - him, being Duke Ellington, a master bandleader from the golden era of big band jazz. Dan Block pays tribute to Sir Duke with From His World to Mine.

Block is a saxophonist, clarinetist and composer who has associated with such artists as Clark Terry, Linda Ronstadt, Michael Feinstein andRosemary Clooney. He has appeared numerous times on television's A Prairie Home Companion and has been heard on commercials and numerous motion picture soundtracks, including Martin Scorsese's The Aviator (2004) and Denzel Washington's The Great Debaters (2007).

The set begins with a lively take on "Kissing Bug." With Block leading the way on tenor, the band is tight as a unit, but the individuals also shine. Pianist Mike Kanan performs a leisurely solo, followed by vibraphonist Mark Sherman, each is accompanied by guitarist James Chirillo, bassist Lee Hudson and drummer Brian Grice, who injects rim shots and tom rolls at key moments. Drums and percussion engage in a playful dialogue, setting up a return to the melody.

"Old King Dooji" features Block on clarinet, accompanied only by piano, bass and drums. Solos are by Kanan and Grice, the latter being a full-kit workout. The mood evokes visions of a jaunt through a major city in the 1930s that hints of risk.

Clarinet and vibes are featured on "Are You Stickin'?" After Block's solo introduction, percussionist Renato Thoms brings up the congas, and a call-and-response sequence with the band segues into the melody.

From His World to Mine features 14 songs by Ellington's band, recorded on three dates with four different combinations of musicians. This approach provides a wide array of sounds from the Ellington catalog." -AllAboutJazz

"Dan Block is an exceptionally talented reed player, a stylish arranger and composer, a skilful bandleader and a valued sideman. He's worked withMichael Feinstein, Rosemary Clooney and Clark Terry, among others, and has also performed for Broadway shows and Hollywood movies, but he has never achieved the widespread recognition his talent deserves. From His World To Mine: Dan Block Plays The Music Of Duke Ellington should change that. It is, quite simply, gorgeous.

Block has drawn together a fascinating collection of Ellington tunes, avoiding the routinely reworked in favor of some lesser-known, but still beautiful, compositions. The selection covers a period from the early '30s to the '70s, with the majority of the tunes coming from the '40s. Block's arrangements add some contemporary twists to the songs - mostly Ellington compositions, plus three by Billy Strayhorn - while his choice of musicians is also on the money. The interplay between the various combinations is a joy and Block perfectly matches instrumental lineups to the moods and styles of his chosen tunes.

In his fascinating sleeve notes Block writes fondly of the late '40s, a "somewhat neglected" period from which he takes five or six tunes. They include the lovely Strayhorn ballad, "Change My Ways," which Block combines with another Strayhorn composition, 1957's "All Heart," played as a duet with pianist Mike Kanan. The third Strayhorn tune, 1945's "Kissing Bug," is a cheery, up-tempo, number which benefits from some swinging drums and percussion from Brian Grice and Renato Thoms.

The remaining tunes demonstrate Ellington's masterful abilities as a composer and showcase Block and his fellow musicians' undoubted qualities as players. Block's superb clarinet playing is highlighted on the amusing, sparky and decidedly upbeat "Old King Dooji," his performance lyrical and melodic, while James Chirillo's deft and swinging acoustic guitar playing on "Portrait of Bert Williams" is a delight.

"Mt Harrissa" is, perhaps, the least Ellingtonian arrangement of the set. Originally part of Ellington's "Far East Suite," Block invests it with a samba rhythm, giving his own tenor saxophone playing a touch of Stan Getz and sharing the melody with Mark Sherman's crystal-clear, sparkling, vibes. The list could go on, for there isn't a weak spot to be found.

From His World To Mine: Dan Block Plays The Music Of Duke Ellington may not be the slickest album title ever created, but every other aspect of this recording is a joy. Block's song choices give the spotlight to some lesser-known Ellington tunes, and his arrangements ensure that they have a modern sound while still remaining true to the spirit of the originals. The musicianship of Block and his fellow artists has warmth as well as technical skill, creating a superbly crafted, feel-good, album on every level." -AllAboutJazz

Album Notes

Audio Mixers: Andrew Williams ; Andy Farber.

Recording information: Catherdral Sound, Long Island City, NY (08/13/2009-08/24/2009); Systems II, Brooklyn, NY (08/13/2009-08/24/2009); Third Circle Studio, New York, NY (08/13/2009-08/24/2009); Catherdral Sound, Long Island City, NY (08/15/2009); Systems II, Brooklyn, NY (08/15/2009); Third Circle Studio, New York, NY (08/15/2009); Catherdral Sound, Long Island City, NY (08/24/2009); Systems II, Brooklyn, NY (08/24/2009); Third Circle Studio, New York, NY (08/24/2009).

Illustrator: Emma Block.

While many musicians stick to very familiar songs from the vast repertoire of Duke Ellington and play them in a predictable manner, Dan Block takes another path. Right away one notices that the veteran multi-reed player chose many songs from the early decades of Ellington's career that have not been recorded very often by other leaders. Another strength is Block's novel arranging, starting with an Afro-Cuban introduction to the '40s vocal number "Kissing Bug" (though played as an instrumental), buoyed by strong solos by the leader on tenor, vibraphonist Mark Sherman, and the drum/percussion team of Brian Grice and Renato Thomas. Block's swinging clarinet is prominent in an updated treatment of "Old King Dooji," which also has a playful bop piano solo by Mike Kanan. Block's gritty tenor is featured in a breezy setting of "Surburbanite." The leader switches to bass clarinet for an elegant setting of "Portrait of Bert Williams," backed by a pianoless group with guitarist James Chirillo, bassist Lee Hudson, and cellist Pat O'Leary. One of the more familiar songs is "Mt. Harrissa" (from "The Far East Suite"), in which Sherman's vibes introduce the theme before Block makes his entrance with his warm tenor sax. Finally, Block overdubs an ensemble of reeds (E-flat, B-flat, and bass clarinets) plus basset horn in his lush setting of the rarely performed "The Beautiful Indians," backed by bass and cello. This enjoyable portrait of the music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn is a remarkable effort. ~ Ken Dryden


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