“I revere the Duke, but I didn’t want to make a reverent album”, Joe Jackson says of The Duke, his new tribute to jazz legend Duke Ellington.
The Duke is indeed an unconventional salute to Ellington, demonstrating the timeless brilliance of his compositions while showcasing Jackson’s skills as arranger, instrumentalist and singer. Though it’s his second album of non-original material (after 1981’s Jumpin’ Jive) it’s nonetheless a deeply personal project for Jackson, whose affinity for Ellington has been an inspiration throughout his own three-decade-plus career.
The Duke finds the iconoclastic Jackson – a five-time Grammy nominee – interpreting 15 Ellington classics over ten tracks, ingeniously combining several songs into medleys. Rather than emulating the original big-band arrangements, Jackson filters the material through his own musical imagination. The result is a surprising yet seamless fusion of styles, whose abundant playfulness is consistent with Ellington’s own freewheeling approach.
Jackson’s distinctive voice is featured on I’m Beginning To See The Light, Mood Indigo, and I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good), while It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) finds him trading vocals with punk icon Iggy Pop. R&B diva Sharon Jones, meanwhile, shines with a soulful I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But The Blues. In keeping with Ellington’s multiculuralism, Jackson also encouraged Iranian singer Sussan Deyhim to perform a soaring Caravan in Farsi, and Lilian Vieira, of the Brazilian/Dutch collective Zuco 103, to create a sunny, sexy Portuguese version of Perdido.
The album’s striking mix of electronic and organic textures is especially evident on instrumentals like Isfahan, Rockin’ In Rhythm, The Mooche, and Black and Tan Fantasy. The musicians include two contemporary jazz stars, violinist Regina Carter and bassist Christian McBride; rock guitar hero Steve Vai; drummer Ahmir ‘?uestlove’ Thompson and other members of The Roots; and two of Jackson’s old associates, guitarist Vinnie Zummo and percussionist Sue Hadjopoulos. The album was recorded and mixed by the legendary Elliot Scheiner.
Though The Duke is a tribute album, it’s also very much a Joe Jackson album, consistent with his longstanding sense of musical adventure.