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The Crown Project: Ellington on Monarch

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Produced by pianist and keyboard player Mark Gasbarro, this centennial tribute to Duke Ellington aims too broad and proves a stretch for a fan of acoustic jazz. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have gotten past the rock drums and electronic keyboard vamp that opens “La Plus Belle Africaine,” the leadoff tune. But Dave Ellis’ soprano saxophone lead and solo prove jazz-worthy despite the glitzy pop music sound of Gasbarro’s nine-piece ensemble.

Things improve with “I’m Beginning to See the Light” and “Satin Doll.” The former features Manhattan Transfer singer Janis Siegel with Ellis (on tenor), Gasbarro (on piano), bassist John Clayton, and drummer John Ferraro. The rhythm section stays aboard for the latter tune as Ellis switches to soprano and the time signature switches to three-four. Gasbarro gives an exotic modal twist to the tune’s “A” section, and Ellis and Clayton offer strong solos.

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