Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dan Block: Rethinking Ellington

Dan Block (sax, clarinet)
Plays Duke Ellington: From His World To Mine (Miles High Records; 2010)

Dan Block is a highly respected reed player with a list of significant creditenials that should have more jazz fans standing up and taking notice. Of the many records we've reviewed this year, From His World To Mine (Miles High Records), is one that should have universal appeal to jazz new comers and jazz stalwarts alike.

Here at JazzWrap we've usually titled to more avant garde/free jazz, world and ambient, but I try to make a point when a record comes along that is so rich in tradition that you just have to spread the news. Dan Block has done just that with his new album. And I think you all need to know about.

Dan Block came out of the St. Louis jazz and blues tradition. He has performed or recorded with such legends as Charles Mingus, Frank Wess, Marty Grosz, Clark Terry, Rosemary Clooney and Maria Schneider to name a lot! He has also done his share of work in TV, Film and Broadway.

His style and arrangements are more for large ensembles but he creates an atmosphere that's more bebop small group that large scale big band. His previous release, Almost Modern (Sackville; 2006) which I thought finally captured the essence of Block ability has now been fully expanded and gone beyond sounding retro-big band. Dan Block is so much more than that. With From His World To Mine, Block has created a solid album of hard bop infused with the rich energy of Ellington or Goodman's big bands.

This homage to the Duke is a wonderful experience for those unfamiliar with Duke Ellington's material. Dan Block has kept the feeling of the numbers but has added a ting of his own buoyant personality on both sax and clarinet as evident on rolling and infectious opener, "Kissing Bug" (a Billy Strayhorn penned piece) which adds a dash of Latin flavour. This was a number which originally had some nice jumping vocals but is transformed by the Block's arrangement into something familiar but still original. Block's performance is crisp and bold with excellent accompaniment from Mike Kanan (piano), Brian Grice (drums) and Renato Thoms (percussion). This is a sextet piece that sounds like quartet. How can that be!?!

"Old King Dooji" is a small group number with Block starting off on clarinet and features some fierce performances from Grice again along with perfect pattern sculpting from Kanna and Lee Hudson gently on the bass. Nice stuff.

Elsewhere, Block shows the emotional beauty of Ellington with his arrangement of "Creole Blues". The arrangements are not that dissimilar. The blues tempo remains, but its the depth of Blocks performance on sax that really transforms the piece into something with deeper introspection and range. This introspection is also apart of "New York City Blues" where Block's sax and Mark Sherman's vibes dominate but don't upset the sentimental structure of the oriiginal tune.

"Mt. Harrissa" is another moment in which the emotional depth of the band is really prominent. The interplay of Grice, Kanan and now Mark Sherman (vibes) and gentle melody of James Chirillo (guitar) with some majestic playing by Block floating overhead, you will find yourself top-tapping away.

Duke Ellington's material is vast and stretches across different arranging structures. What Dan Block has done with From His World To Mine---by choosing mostly under-rated pieces from the Ellington canon is provide a vehicle that not only delivers a solid enjoyment of originality--it also demonstrates that you can look back to your elders and be inspired to create something familiar but yet highly effective for this new generation of modern jazz listeners. Highly Recommended.

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