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July/August 2002

Bucky Pizzarelli/John Bunch/Jay Leonhart
Manhattan Swing: A Visit With the Duke

It's a can't-miss formula: three likeminded, straightahead swingers, to quote Leonhart, "honoring the Archangel of American music, Duke Ellington." Not surprisingly, the whole session sounds like a love affair with material that has stood the test of time, plus tunes that deserve more exposure such as "All Too Soon," "Black Butterfly" and the haunting "Isfahan."

Aside from the mutual love for Duke as a source of eloquent ideas, there is mutual respect for each other's talents here. Unfortunately, no credits are given for the simple, effective head arrangements, leading one to assume that lines and reharmonizations were discussed briefly, quickly agreed on and recorded. Supporting evidence can be heard instantly with Bunch's descending 10ths on the opening "Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me"; the pre-vocal Nat Cole Trio voicings on "I'm Beginning to See the Light"; the Shearingesque block chords-with-guitar on "Black Butterfly"; the descending figures by Pizzarelli and Leonhart on the moody "Passion Flower"; the subtle avoidance of the "switcheroony" turnaround on "Satin Doll"; and a closing, way-up "C Jam Blues" that not only provides Pizzarelli's most exciting playing, but finally takes the trio out of medium-speed cruise control.

Kudos to Leonhart for some personal and poignant liner notes in which he captures the laissez faire essence of a typical Ellington band club gig.

Originally published in July/August 2002
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