True to Jackson’s word, The Duke is a decidedly unconventional salute to Ellington, demonstrating the timeless brilliance of his classic compositions while showcasing Jackson’s sublime skills as an arranger, instrumentalist and vocal interpreter. Although it’s only the second time he’s recorded an album not comprised of his own compositions, The Duke is a deeply personal project for Jackson, whose longstanding affinity for Ellington’s pioneering spirit has served as a key inspiration throughout his own three-decades-plus career.
The Duke finds the iconoclastic English singer/composer/arranger/keyboardist and five-time Grammy nominee interpreting 15 Ellington classics over the course of ten tracks, interspersing melodic and rhythmic elements of various compositions in a manner that’s consistent with Ellington’s own freewheeling approach. Rather than emulating the songs’ original big-band settings, Jackson filtered the music through his own musical imagination while exploring an assortment of unexpected grooves and textures. The resulting album is a seamless fusion of sounds and styles, whose abundant sense of playfulness is consistent with Ellington’s boundary-breaking attitude.
Jackson’s distinctive voice is featured on I’m Beginning To See The Light, Mood Indigo, and I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good), while It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) features a duet with Iggy Pop. R&B diva Sharon Jones sings on I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But The Blues. In keeping with Ellington’s multiculuralism, Jackson welcomed Iranian singer Sussan Deyhim to perform Caravan in Farsi, and Lilian Vieira, of the Brazilian/Dutch collective Zuco 103, to create a sunny, sexy Portuguese version of Perdido.
The album’s mix of electronic and organic textures, are evident on the instrumentals Isfahan, Rockin’ In Rhythm, The Mooche, and Black and Tan Fantasy. Musicians include contemporary jazz stars, violinist Regina Carter and bassist Christian McBride; rock guitarist Steve Vai; drummer Ahmir ‘?uestlove’ Thompson and other members of The Roots; plus Jackson’s old associates, guitarist Vinnie Zummo and percussionist Sue Hadjopoulos. The album was recorded and mixed by seven-time Grammy winner Elliot Scheiner (Steely Dan, Sting, Bob Dylan).