This is the third season of "Songbook Summit," and hopefully you're familiar with the format by now: the Andersons, twin multi-reed masters ("cozy virtuosi"), veterans of Juilliard, JALC, and Vince Giordano, appear with a stellar rhythm section (this week it's bassist Neal Miner, pianist Jeb Patton from the Heath Brothers band, and Chuck Redd doubling drums and vibraphone) and the exceptional vocalist Molly Ryan, in a single 90-minute set that explores the cross-polination between jazz and the great American songbook. They're kicking off the 2019 run with a composer very close to their hearts, the legendary Duke Ellington, and the level of the overall show is even higher than usual.
As usual, the brothers make a point of switching off between a half-dozen or so reed instruments, with Pete playing most of the B flat horns (tenor, soprano, clarinet) and doing most of the arrangements, and Will on the left playing most of the E flat saxes (alto, baritone) and handling most of the multimedia presentation. They played all the Ellington warhorses you'd expect, starting with "Take the A Train," but, as having been tutored in the most profound aspects of the Ducal dynasty by the late great Ellingtonian Joe Temperley, also dove deep into the crevices for several rarely heard masterpieces of Ellington-&-Strayhorn-iana. "Ad Lib on Nippon" (the climax of the 1966 Far East Suite, and the only part of the work that actually suggests the far East) was a remarkable transcription that spotlighted Patton's impeccably Duke-ish digits, punctuated by two-clarinet interludes by the brothers. The obvious highlight was "Single Petal of a Rose," played on bass clarinet in homage to Temperley, who played in homage to Ellington himself (usually as a piano solo). "Single Petal" illuminates how the Andersons are kicking it up a notch and playing with a deep-in-the-wood, soulful sound that we associate with veteran sax masters like Ken Peplowski, Scott Robinson, or Dan Levinson, and even more so the Duke's own saxists supreme, like Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsavles, Ben Webster, and Harry Carney. Whether you're a Ducal diehard or a dilettante, this is a fairly essential program of Ellingtonia.
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