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Joe Jackson: The Duke

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Only once before has “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” hitmaker Joe Jackson recorded material not his own: back in 1981, when he visited the ’40s on Jumpin’ Jive. The game-changing brilliance of that album notwithstanding, Jackson truly outdoes himself on this unorthodox invasion of the Ellington songbook. Having cited the icon’s own career-long predilection for tinkering with his songs, Jackson begins with the brazen decision to reinterpret Duke without horns, then lets his imagination run amok. Perhaps equally important, he invites along several heavy-duty cohorts, Christian McBride and the Roots’ ?uestlove among them.

Jackson opens with a moody “Isfahan,” setting a muted tone that is immediately overturned by a rocked-out “Caravan” complete with a blazing Steve Vai guitar solo and swirling vocals, in Farsi, by Iranian singer Sussan Deyhim. Regina Carter gloriously ignites a staccato “I’m Beginning to See the Light” that seems equals parts Devo and Fred Astaire. A freewheeling “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But the Blues,” briefly sedated by a mellow “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me,” provides a shimmying showcase for Sharon Jones. Lilian Vieira, of the Brazilian/Dutch collective Zuco 103, navigates a high-octane, disco-beat “Perdido” sung in Portuguese. “Mood Indigo” becomes a creaky death march along the Louisiana/Texas musical border. “Rockin’ in Rhythm” is reinvented as a calliope-led circus parade that suddenly turns sinister. The dizzying bacchanal-cum-meteor-ride concludes with an oddly exhilarating union that finds Jackson swapping lines with Iggy Pop on “It Don’t Mean a Thing.”

Originally Published