We interrupt this year’s Edinburgh Jazz Festival coverage to tell you about a CD. Usually, I listen to a CD for review, write the review and then the disc enters a big pile of CDs to be filed away. But, to use Lebowski-speak, sometimes there’s a CD …
Sometimes there’s a CD which you just can’t set aside even though you know it’s time to move on to the next one for review. It just will not leave your brain – and it most certainly will not leave your CD player. Most recently, this has happened to me with an album sent to me by the New York-based clarinettist and saxophonist Dan Block.
I can’t recommend his CD, From His World to Mine – Dan Block Plays the Music of Duke Ellington (Miles High Records), highly enough. It features Block on clarinet, bass clarinet, alto and tenor sax, and is one of the best Ellington albums I’ve heard.
As the title suggests, it’s a very personal take on the Ellington back cataglogue, and it’s also undoubtedly been a labour of love. So much so that the cover was painted by Block’s 17-year-old daughter, Emma. (I have to confess that her picture reminds me of a similar one I did, for my own dad, of the same band when I was at school.)
The highlights are many. There’s the funky take on Billy Strayhorn’s Kissing Bug which opens the CD and sets out Block’s stall as an original thinker when it comes to presenting familiar tunes. Great play is made of Mark Sherman’s vibes, Renato Thomas’s percussion and Brian Grice’s drums on this number – and on Mt Harrissa, which has the same line-up and is also particularly funky. Its vibes-led opening reminds me, every time without fail, of the “porn party” scene in The Big Lebowski when the Dude visits porn magnate Ben Gazzara.
New York Blues is a favourite, thanks to its lovely laidback and sultry feel and Block’s wistful tenor playing (and the gorgeous opening passage in which he plays unaccompanied). Then there’s almost cinematic The Beautiful Indians on which Block multi-tracks, playing two clarinets, bass clarinet and basset horn.
Other stand-outs include the sublime Billy Strayhorn Ballad Medley (All Heart and Change My Ways) on which Block, first on clarinet and then on alto, is accompanied by pianist Mike Kanan, and my personal number one, Portrait of Bert Williams. This catchy, quirky and slightly poignant number is a gem; Block’s bluesy bass clarinet beautifully offset by the trio of James Chirillo (guitar), Lee Hudson (bass) and Pat O’Leary (cello).
Yup, sometimes there’s a CD …