Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Joe Jackson 18: The Duke

Well, that didn’t last long. Maybe he‘d gotten songwriting out of his system, as Joe’s next major work was a tribute to the music of Duke Ellington, with new arrangements, complete with an all-star cast of special guests. Cue crickets.
While there’s no questioning the importance of the music examined on The Duke, it’s almost as if Joe is determined to prove to the world that they, not he, were wrong to dismiss such earlier celebrity train wrecks as Night Music and Heaven & Hell. Having already proven his talent with jazz throughout his career, and specifically on Jumpin’ Jive, did he really think the world wanted to hear what could do with Steve Vai and Iggy Pop at his disposal?
Stylistically, it’s all over the map. The opener is smooth jazz punctuated by Vai’s noodlings. Several tracks are driven by the rhythm section of Christian McBride on bass and ?uestlove on drums (in addition to other Roots here and there) with JJ favorite Sue Hadjopolous on percussion. Vocals appear, sometimes from Joe, once from Sharon Jones, but also from Sufi and Brazilian singers for authenticity if not comprehension. Some tracks combine different pieces into one, and much of it sounds like Steely Dan, and not in a good way either.
And two decades into the new century, he’s still using canned synthesizer sounds over more progressive sounds. The big closer of “It Don’t Mean A Thing” samples Ellington’s own voice and flatulent effects, with Iggy Pop bringing nothing to the table, but not taking over the stage, thankfully. One wishes Joe had kept it simple, but he didn’t. “Mood Indigo”, for example, is way more labored than his earlier rendition. Yet there’s a wonderful moment of a “Satin Doll” medley where it’s just his piano striding through the melody.
The lesson to be learned? Go dig up the originals and marvel at the genius of the real thing. That’s a much better tribute.

Joe Jackson The Duke (2012)—2

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