On her 50th-anniversary tribute to the Duke Ellington-Charles Mingus-Max Roach sessions that produced the original Money Jungle, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington wisely chooses not to attempt a reproduction of the earlier work but rather to approximate and contemporize its essence. With Christian McBride (bass) and Gerald Clayton (piano) filling out the core trio, and horns and guitar dotting but not dominating several tracks, Carrington reimagines four of the original’s Ellington compositions, tosses in some outtakes that appeared on previous reissues, and tops it off with a pair of her own compositions plus one of Clayton’s.
Although the sporadic injection of money-themed sound bites by present and former presidents is intended to tie the pieces together thematically, their obviousness ultimately distracts from the sanctity of the arrangements (a Herbie Hancock-read Ellington poem and a “Mumbles”-esque scat by Clark Terry fare better) and the excellent performances.
Minor bothers aside, Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue (Concord Jazz) is wholly engrossing. On “Wig Wise,” Carrington and McBride initially skitter tentatively around Clayton’s Caribbean cadence. They gradually crank up the tempo, then Carrington falls away, leaving an opening for a particularly lyrical and dynamic bass romp. On “Money Jungle,” McBride counters the fierce, dissonant aggression of Mingus’ approach with clean, bold lines, and the bassist also drives “Backward Country Boy Blues,” providing Lizz Wright’s wordless vocal with space to fill. And Carrington’s back-to-back contributions, “Grass Roots” and “No Boxes (Nor Words),” are alternately funky, swinging and stocked with the kind of changes Ellington, Roach and Mingus would have grooved to happily. As homage and on its own merits, Carrington’s latest is right on the money.