Dan Block’s movements through Duke Ellington’s work are strong, confident strides. The reed player/composer/arranger/bandleader understands the grandness of what he’s doing with From His World to Mine: The Music of Duke Ellington, but it doesn’t seem to faze him. And it shouldn’t, as this is a lively, intelligent recording that carries the tradition forward with unique arrangements and brilliant playing.
Ellington is one of the most vital figures in all of jazz. His work with large throngs of musicians will forever be remembered as some of the most exciting, most inventive around. And his collaborations with Billy Strayhorn are, of course, unimpeachable.
From His World to Mine isn’t a series of Ellington covers particularly. It is, instead, Block’s tracing of a musical journey. As he explains in the liner notes, “This project is simply one person’s reflection on that journey. It is a presentation on how this music has touched me personally.”
Block opens with “Kissing Bug.” This Strayhorn composition is put into 12/8 and flies along thanks to percussion from Brian Grice and Renato Thoms. There are Latin undercurrents to keep an ear on as Block’s rich tenor digs in.
“Are You Stickin’?” was originally a bit of a showcase piece for Barney Bigard, Ellington’s clarinet soloist of choice from 1927 to 1942. Block reconstructs the conversational number somewhat and forms some serious words of wisdom with Thoms’ percussion for a showdown that really pops.
Ellington’s “Mt. Harrissa” originally grew out of one of those State Department trips musicians used to go on to spread the values of democracy and such. This trip was to the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent, so the mysterious and exotic balance is present in the composition from the outset. Block retouches, throwing Mark Sherman’s vibes into the mix to play through the Ellington piano portions. It’s a lively, swinging number that benefits greatly from Mike Kanan’s presence.
Block tackles Ellington’s blues with “Rocks in My Bed,” a scorching number punctuated by deep, sultry clarinet. James Chirillo’s guitar gently brushes in the background and Lee Hudson’s bass digs in deep for a head-nodding solo.
Block’s From His World to Mine demonstrates just how accessible and exciting Duke Ellington’s catalogue really is. The new arrangements call out to old dogs and young lions alike, presenting a realm of music for any soul willing to perk an ear. This is terrifically funky, wonderfully engaging stuff.