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Be careful what you wish for
Matthew Watters | Vietnam | 08/13/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"In my review of Clark Terry's 'Duke With a Difference' (q.v.) made back in the 1950s, I wished the players had pushed the envelope a little more and had moved the Ellington tunes further into a modern small-group idiom. Twenty some years later, Clark gets around to doing it. This is a very unusual quintet, with guitarist Joe Pass peforming as almost a second horn in the front line with Terry, who plays either with a mute or in his quiet, puckery style throughout so as not to overpower Pass. It's similar to the Art Farmer-Jim Hall Quartet, but with a piano added. The overall effect of Memories of Duke is a very minimalist reinvention of some otherwise familiar Ellington themes. The tunes are slowed down, sped up, and otherwise utterly deconstructed in generally quite interesting ways. (I love the peppy rendition of "Sophisticated Lady", with its very odd interplay between Terry and Pass, as well as pianist Jack Wilson's finest moment on the record.) There are also places on this album where the music is reduced to a mere trio of Terry, Pass and bassist Ray Brown (who, like Terry, had ample experience playing with Duke back in the day). On the album closer "Come Sunday", Terry performs in a duo with Pass, and Pass provides fully self-contained accompaniment, rather like he did in his duo recordings with Ella Fitzgerald. Indeed, while Terry is, throughout this album, as thoroughly engaged and engaging as he always is, the real lasting interest of Memories of Duke may be in the strange textures Pass weaves into this very spare tapestry. But, be careful what you wish for. It's the dogged modernism of this outing that ultimately reduces its charm. The end result is a passable sort of intelligent 'chamber jazz', great to fall asleep to."