Dodecaband Plays Ellington

COMPOSERS: Ellington
LABELS: Dreyfus Jazz
PERFORMER: Martial Solal (p), Tony Russo, Roger Guérin, Eric Le Lann (t), Denis Leloup, Jacques Bolognesi (tb), Didier Havet (tuba), Jean-Pierre Solves (f, bs), Jean-Pierre Chautemps, Sylvain Beuf (ss, as, ts), Patrice Caratini (b), François Merville/Umberto Pagnini
CATALOGUE NO: FDM 35513-2

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Algiers-born pianist/composer Martial Solal, now in his early seventies and with one of the music’s highest honours, the Jazzpar Prize, under his belt, is still playing and arranging with all the wit and inventiveness that have characterised his output since the Fifties, when he came to the wider world’s attention with his score for Godard’s À bout de souffle.

This album showcases both his unique approach to improvisation – replete with sly humour, delightfully unpredictable rhythmic and melodic felicities, and tasteful, unshowy virtuosity – and his extraordinarily fertile arranger’s brain, which results, in his words, in the familiar Ellington tunes getting ‘a complete reworking’ while their ‘original melodies remain omnipresent’.

Wisely, given the thoroughness of his reworkings – the overall effect is of a familiar building re-examined from unusual angles, inside and out, by a restlessly roving camera, so that apparently insignificant details suddenly assume great importance – Solal has selected the most widely known Ellingtonia – ‘Satin Doll’, ‘Caravan’, ‘In a Sentimental Mood’, ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing…’, ‘Take the “A” Train’ – for his 12-piece band to reconstruct.

Deeply yet satisfyingly idiosyncratic – not to say downright quirky – though they are, Solal’s arrangements, like his piano-playing, intersperse jaunty charm with considerable elegance, bustling exuberance with sombre thoughtfulness, so that none of the Ellingtonian grace and subtlety imbuing the original material is lost, but emerges triumphantly intact, even accentuated, from Solal’s adventurous treatments.

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Positively fizzing with musical ideas, this album is a perfect example of jazz’s ability constantly to reinvent itself, even when revisiting its most celebrated material. Chris Parker