The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra
In the Spirit of Duke
Spartacus ***1/2
There is a new creative wave of interest in the music of Duke Ellington at the moment, and if anything the crest of the breakers won’t fully crash on to the obliging beaches of the global jazz community until next year, the fortieth anniversary of the death of the great composer and bandleader.

None of the notable projects though by Terri Lyne Carrington, Mark Lockheart, and others in this zeitgeist, strive for the authenticity that In the Spirit of Duke does. The orchestra’s director and tenor saxophone inspiration Tommy Smith in his sleeve note talks about the pains he went to in this regard: “I managed to get my hands on some authentic mutes from America”, he even writes, and Smith settled to transcribe a small mountain of music including tunes found in movie music and at concerts. Smith was also able to draw on first hand experience performing with Ellingtonians in the Ellington Legacy Orchestra, and on his own record The Sound of Love made a major contribution to new jazz inspired by the master long after the death of Ellington had been mourned in the 1970s.

In the Spirit of Duke was recorded live in Scotland as recently as October and mixed weeks later by Jan Erik Kongshaug in Norway, the great ECM engineer. Not surprisingly the album has meticulous sound and the performances match, with the enthusiasm of audiences adding another decisive element. There’s some fine soloing, notably from Smith himself on album closer ‘Diminuendo in Blue [Wailing Interval] Crescendo in Blue’, Brian Kellock, Ryan Quigley, and Ru Pattison. Fine drummer Alyn Cosker shows his mettle on ‘Diminuendo’, and elsewhere, as does ever Braveheart-like Calum Gourlay who audiences south of the border know only too well for his maraudingly impressive bass forays with Kit Downes among others. This new SNJO album has spirit and energy, but it’s aimed more at connoisseurs of Ellington’s music than for those not naturally drawn to reminisce in tempo so don’t expect postmodern reinvention as there’s none of that here. Do expect lots of energy, consummate musicianship and some jumping for joy: it’s what the music demands after all. SG

Released on 13 March

The cover of In The Spirit of Duke, above

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