As an admirer of the combination of clarinetist Eddie Daniels and pianist Roger Kellaway, I had great expectations for their latest collaboration, Duke at the Roadhouse: Live in Santa Fe, a collection of tunes honoring the great Duke Ellington. As Daniels explains in a recent publicity release, in October of 2012 he was invited to perform a benefit concert for the New Mexico Center for Therapeutic Riding, a group that works with disabled young people. Two thoughts came to mind: one that he should work once again with Kellaway; two that they should play the music of the Duke. Then, given the choice of Ellington’s music, he thought that adding a “cello to the duo would add a richness to the music.”
Kellaway, a cello maven who had previously composed for the instrument, happily bought into the idea. Actually, a note from Kellaway explains that the cello parts, including the improvisations, were all composed by him and required a cellist with some facility with jazz phrasing to get the solos to sound like improvisations. Cellist James Holland took up the challenge. If chemistry is the measure of a great jazz ensemble, Kellaway and Daniels have it in spades, and Holland fits right in. Indeed it would have been nice to hear him working on a few more of the tracks.
The work they do on the great “Perdido” is masterful. Kellaway fairly dances through the tune before the darker tones of the cello take focus. The arrangement opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities for the combined instrumental voices. Daniels takes over and the tune builds to a swinging bluesy crescendo before bowing out in an understated coda. It is a powerful treatment of the iconic tune.
Of the 10 songs on the album, eight are classic pieces associated with or composed by Ellington. There are two original compositions dedicated to the master, Daniels’ “Duke at the Roadhouse” and Kellaway’s “Duke in Ojai.” They begin the set with a hot, swinging take on “I’m Beginning to See the Light” after an atmospheric opening intro. This is followed by a bluesy “Creole Love Call.” “In a Mellow Tone” and an extended version of “In a Sentimental Mood” follow. “Sophisticated Lady,” with Kellaway on tenor sax, “Mood Indigo,” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing” complete the set.
With Daniels and Kellaway, the Duke’s music is in good hands.