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May 2001

Various Artists
Satin Doll: Smooth Jazz Plays Duke Ellington
Shanachie

Though also mining a rich source of material, Satin Doll: Smooth Jazz Plays Duke Ellington (Shanachie 5075; 49:59), mostly succeeds only in sanitizing Ellington's dynamic, groundbreaking work. This effect is achieved through such "smooth" contrivances as slapped-on drum program rattles and synthesizer syrup, which reduce classics like "Satin Doll" to muzak mush. Though many of the soloists deliver fine, even inspired, individual performances, like Rahmlee Davis' mute trumpet on "Take the 'A' Train" or Chuck Loeb's spindly-nimble guitar work on "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)," the cold disco thwack (on the former) and generally lazy-sounding background keyboards (on the latter) undermine those efforts. With a few noteable exceptions (Chieli Minucci's take on "Sophisticated Lady" is the best reinterpretation here, with a Spanish guitar flavor adding worldly sweep), this collection doesn't provide enough fresh looks to add dimension to Ellington's library, it merely robs some of music history's true classics of some of the guts, soul and energy that made them great.

Originally published in May 2001
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