This spirited romp by top-tier jazz professionals through the music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn is long overdue. Though many pay lip service to their twin genius, the pair seem almost forgotten in popular culture. No massive vinyl reissue campaigns by major labels, no racy docudramas, no Record Store Day limited editions.
Bassist and educator Rodney Whitaker has studied the classic work of Ellington and Strayhorn since he was a member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (1994—2002), where spirited debates with Wynton Marsalis drove him deeper into the music. All Too Soon, the second installment of a five-CD project, finds Whitaker enlisting a stellar sextet and singer Rockelle Fortin to pay homage to this invaluable music.
"Cotton Tail" opens the recording, drummer Karriem Riggins blistering with forward-motion assaults before trumpeter Brian Lynch, tenor saxophonist Diego Rivera, and trombonist Michael Dease take their solo journeys. The players uphold tradition while living in the here and now. Pianist Richard Roe plays sweet notes leading into "All Too Soon," melody and lyrics recited by Fortin. "Take the A Train" finds Whitaker in his best Blanton/Pettiford mode, playing an evocative solo, followed (eventually) by further bombs from Riggins. Sly and sweet, "Just Squeeze Me" is the perfect low-key swing engine, propelled by Whitaker's dulcet recitation of the melody.
Throughout All Too Soon, Whitaker pays welcome respect to Ellington and Strayhorn; may it ignite new interest and further homage to the distinguished duo.