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The Floating Jazz Festival Trio: The Music of Duke Ellington

Common to all three of these is Junior Mance’s piano, an element that contributes greatly to their appeal. In the first, the trio of Mance, Keter Betts and Jackie Williams is joined by Joe Temperley on baritone, soprano and bass clarinet. Besides his well-known propensity for the blues, the pianist has a special affinity for Ellington’s music, which he demonstrates on all six performances, not least on the 20-minute conjunction of “The Single Petal of a Rose” and “Sunset and the Mocking Bird.” (If you can, also get his other fine version of the latter title on Enja CD 8080-2, where he is backed by Jimmy Woode and Bobby Durham.) The Floating Trio has become a very simpatico unit and Temperley makes an admirable addition for this program, given his familiarity with the material. He was, in fact, the best choice, and not merely in terms of sound and phrasing on baritone, when Mercer Ellington cast about for someone to take Harry Carney’s all-important place. On all three horns, he shows how much he has grown in musical stature. Recorded live on the SS Norway in 1996, the relaxed atmosphere and appreciative audience clearly helped toward the set’s success.

The Sackville disc is a reissue of seven duets Mance recorded with bassist Martin Rivera in 1983. Besides a couple of originals, two standards, and numbers by Horace Silver and Sy Oliver, Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss” is delivered with affecting sensitivity. Overall, For Dancers Only was a fitting title, because Mance is of a generation that valued good tempos and a solid beat along with versatility.

At the Iridium, the “Golden Horns” are Sweets Edison, Clark Terry, Frank Wess, Mance, Marcus McLaurine and, on drums, Dave Gibson. They’re responsible for an hour of happy, largely spontaneous music. Mance steals the record on the dirty “Mean Greens” shuffle and a brilliant, long exploration of Johnny Mandel’s great ballad, “Emily.” Here Mance’s scope is fully revealed. Wess plays flute on “Helena’s Dream” and “Midgets,” tenor on the rest, and he would undoubtedly be more highly regarded as a saxophonist had he not made such a big name as a flautist. The notes don’t help much in distinguishing between the muted trumpets, but in general, Edison is terse and plaintive, Terry more voluble and exuberant.

Originally Published