A composer for movies and theater, the Austin-based Graham Reynolds also leads the Golden Arm Trio, combining jazz, avant-garde, chamber music and electronica. Reynolds' latest album, as you can tell from its title, is a tribute to Duke Ellington. Reynolds and company take three different approaches—and each is fascinating.
The first third of the CD consists of rollicking big-band interpretations of Ellington's tunes, such as "Caravan" and "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)," on which the horns explode; the rhythm section swings mightily; and Reynolds commands the piano with a combination of restraint and abandon.
Part 2 features string-quartet interpretations of the same songs. For instance, "String Abstraction #8" may not superficially resemble its source, the raucous, R&B-inflected "Old King Dooji," but its dark minimalism is uncommonly beautiful.
Reynolds then brings in remix artists to interpret some of the big-band tunes and the abstractions. The results are often haunting and cinematic. You can hear a whole movie unfold in DJ Spooky's industrial/spy theme creation "It Don't Mean (String Abstraction remix)," while Adrian Quesada's "Level One (Heaven remix)" emerges as a fine bit of crucial dub.
Although it's only an hour long, the ambitious Duke! feels almost like three albums of listening pleasure.