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The Duke Ellington Legacy’s latest album, titled Single Petal of a Rose, features special guest Houston Person on tenor saxophone. Released on June 5, 2012 on Renma Recordings, the nine-person orchestra doesn’t attempt to mimic the original Ellington orchestra’s sound, instead it conveys inspiring ballads, radiantly toned rhythms along with sexy vocals. Launched by guitarist Edward Kennedy Ellington II, Duke’s grandson, and tenor saxophonist Virginia Mayhew in 2002, the Duke Ellington Legacy is also comprised of Chicago native pianist Norman Simmons, Jami Dauber on the trumpet, trombonist Noah Bless, bassist Tom DiCarlo, Paul Wells on drums, percussionist Sheila Earley and Nancy Reed on vocals. Person’s tenor sax makes its presence known on many tracks, with his singular style and flow.
The second track on the album, which is the title track, opens the album and is a kindhearted piano solo from Simmons. It builds with soaring elegance, lightens with cheeriness and has a magical tone that is so perfect that some listeners might envision it to be the musical equivalent to a lone petal of a unique rose.
“In My Solitude” is the album’s fourth track and it has Person’s extraordinary tenor saxophone play along with Earley’s soft percussion and Wells’s tender drumming in the background, which adds to the cool vibe of the track. Reed’s somber vocals convey an aching longing for her beloved as she emotes lyrics such as, “In my solitude, you haunt me. Everyday gone by. In my solitude, you taunt me with memories. I sit in a chair, filled with despair, no one could be so sad. In my solitude, I’m praying.”
The fifth track is titled “Johnny Come Lately” and it features Simmons’s seamless piano play that gets speedier as the track goes on. Mayhew, who also arranged this track, swells with her catchy tenor saxophone work, along with Bless’ trombone work, which brings with it a big band feel. In addition, Earley’s percussion work gives the song a Latin bend and Wells’s drums in the background add soul to this very danceable track.
“Blood Count” is the album’s seventh track. It’s a slow, expressive solo trombone composition from Bless. Its melancholy vibe could cause listeners to envision hearing this song in a movie where the lead has just lost his or her true love and is now roaming the city streets with images of their sweetheart haunting their every thought.
The eighth track is titled “In a Mellow Tone” and on it Reed returns with her mature voice expressing her joy but still maintaining a relaxed vibe. Person’s expert tenor saxophone and Dauber’s trumpeting are calm and collected as Reed softly muses lines like, “In a mellow tone, I’m fancy free and I’m not alone, I’ve got company…With this mellow tone, you can’t go wrong…Something’s gotta give.”
“Upper Manhattan Medical Group” is the album’s ninth track and it has swinging guitar play courtesy of Ellington, soulful bass from DiCarlo, dapper drumming from Wells in the background. Also, Simmons swiftly tickles the ivories as Mayhew contributes her jaunty tenor saxophone prowess.
The tenth track, “Squeeze Me,” has a playful tone as Reed’s laid-back vocals are accompanied by Person’s light but lively tenor saxophone, Bless’ decisive trombone, Mayhew’s sweet tenor sax work and Dauber’s resounding trumpet play. As these instruments fuse together to form a cohesive and pleasing rhythm, Reed sings loving lyrics such as, “Treat me sweet and gentle when you hold me tight. Squeeze me but don’t tease me cuz I get sentimental when you say goodnight…I’m in the mood to let you know I really love you. So please tell me that you love me too cuz when I get that feeling, I’m in ecstasy.”
The 14th and final track on Single Petal of a Rose is titled “Lotus Blossom.” Like the opening track, it’s a piano solo from Simmons. Its classy arrangement and lustrous tones compose a ballad that listeners could picture hearing as they dine in a fancy restaurant with their mate or in an upscale piano bar during a night on the town.
In conclusion, Single Petal of a Rose from the Duke Ellington Legacy is a masterful expression of one of the greatest jazz musicians in history. Ellington would be proud to know that his grandson is keeping his legacy alive and bringing it to a new generation of jazz enthusiasts.