Graham Reynolds – (w/The Golden Arm Trio) Duke! Three Portraits of Ellington; (solo) The Difference Engine

January 01, 1970



intro that launches Duke – Three
Portraits of Ellington
sounds like drummer Jeremy Bruch wants to roll his
way into “Wipe Out.” Hopped up on snare rolls and toms, he is in fact playing
Mr. Ellington’s “Caravan.” When the rest of Graham Reynolds’ Golden Arm Trio
(actually a tentette, in this case) joins him, they attack it like a rock band.
The only thing missing is a distorted guitar solo to take it over the top.


In this
first section of a three-part Ellington tribute, tempos race, everyone plays
hard and Reynolds does glissandos up and down the length of the piano in nearly
all of the seven tracks. It presents Duke in a different light but it also mows
down the nuances of these pieces, which have made them endure so long. The
exception comes with “Heaven,” a 91-second solo piano sketch, a hint at greater
things to come.


does a 180 in the next section, eight “string abstractions” by a string quartet
that focus on one segment of each song (“Caravan” gets two abstractions).
Sometimes it takes some effort to find the original composition among the
steady quarter note backgrounds, which makes this part of the album all the
more rewarding. Turning “Cotton Tail” from a wild romp into a pensive mood
piece proves especially successful.


For the
final section of the album, Reynolds enlisted six musicians or DJs to remix the
tracks (he did one himself) and provide an even more skewed look at them.
Participants include Okkervil
River’s Justin
Sherburn, DJ Olive and Gabriel Prokofiev, the great grandson of Russian
composer with the same surname. While the term “remix”  can often mean simply adding a programmed
beat and echo to an existing track, everyone rises to the occasion, turning the
songs inside-out, with thoughtful effects helping to bounce the original works
off the ceiling, occasionally letting it come down and say hello. While they
don’t retain a lot of Ellingtonia, they don’t purport to, which is why this
section works. It might’ve baffled Duke, but then again he might have
appreciated the thought put into it.


The Difference Engine follows a similar track, this time with an original modern classical piece
composed by Reynolds. The title comes from an invention that 19th century
mathematician Charles Babbage attempted to create as the world’s first
computer. Performed by a string ensemble and the composer at the piano, the
music evokes the idea of how mathematics probably viewed such an engine back
then. It begins with a Philip Glass-style repetition and later includes, among
other things, a rhythm created by sawing percussively on the strings. At no
time does the music ever get heavy handed. Reynolds – a veteran of jazz, film
soundtracks and rock – brings out the evocative styles with grace, even when a
movement requires sections to repeat several times like a pop song. He does the
Philip Glass thing without the original’s annoying qualities.


the five movements of the concerto, each section is again turned over to
different parties to remix. Returning mixmaster Adrian Quesada (Grupo Fantasma)
does the best job, turning the lithe “The Astronomer” into a spy thriller set
in the Middle East. Once more, this portion of
the disc comes off strongly, as a complete part rather than just a repackaging
of what was just performed.


DOWNLOAD: Duke!: “Old Kings(Remix by Gabriel Prokofiev),” “String Abstraction
3 (Cotton Tail).” The Difference Engine:
“Movement IV: Late at Night/ The Astronomer,” “The Astronomer (Adrian Quesada
remix)” MIKE

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