Clarinetist/tenor saxophonist Eddie Daniels is represented at both ends of the ensemble spectrum on these CDs: in duo with pianist Roger Kellaway on Duke at the Roadhouse
and as a guest with the big band Jazz Nation led by Steve Williams, a role recalling Daniels' tenure in the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra.
Duke at the Roadhouse
is an adventurous chamber jazz recital recorded at the Lensic Theater in Santa Fe. Eight pieces of Ellingtonia are expanded by one original from each principal. The Ellingtonia may all be very familiar, but the interpretations are invariably fresh and sometimes very idiosyncratic, none more so than the closing track: "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)," clarinet and piano approaching it in a faux classical manner in a prolonged prelude before Daniels launches into the refrain at a fast swing clip, leading to racing solos. Throughout the recital Daniels maintains a burnished woody glow in his clarinet tone, whether piping in the higher registers or plumbing the crimson chalumeau tones of the instrument. He slowly announces the melody on the opener, "I'm Beginning to See the Light," before Kellaway joins him, tempo picking up for a series of rollicking solo and duo improvisations. Cellist James Holland joins the pair on four tracks - plus just part of the riffy melody of Kellaway's "Duke in Ojai" - contributing solos written out by Kellaway as well as ensemble parts. He adds a low counterpoint to "Perdido" and tonal weight to a short, atmospheric "Mood Indigo." "In a Mellow Tone" recalls the original Ellington recordings (1939-40) right down to a cello solo referencing Lawrence Brown's solo choruses and Daniels echoing original tenor soloist Ben Webster. Clarinet and cello take the lead on a tango-infused "In A Sentimental Mood" while Daniels' other foray on tenor is a duo rendition of "Sophisticated Lady," sandwiched by Sonny Rollins-like cadenzas.
The Jazz Nation album features a muscular, harddriving big band firmly in the mid-20th Century tradition of Count Basie, Woody Herman and the various incarnations of the Vanguard Orchestra. Leader-arranger and reed section lead alto Steve Williams creates charts that build up, often from rhythm section or trombones, with admirable narrative momentum and accruing dynamics, and has a real gift - shades of Jones (both Thad and Quincy) - for spotlighting solo instruments and then reinforcing them with ensemble backgrounds. Daniels appears as a soloist on two of the three compositions he contributed, the third the ballad "Thad's Lament." "Inner Lines" is a swinger in a samba groove with Daniels and Luis Hernandez locked in a classic big band tenor sax duel. Trombones open "Hook or Crook," featuring Daniels with a forceful big band clarinet sound, soloing over cheerleading from ensemble sections. The balance of the big band tracks are all engrossing, from the ambitious, waltz-inflected swing of "Entre-Nous" and funky "Where's Marty?" to an expansive tenor ballad for Hernandez and the closer, "Cathel Brugha Blues," a midtempo flagwaver.