His choices have been good ones. An all-Ellington program would seem to be an easy choice for a successful jazz recording, but there are pitfalls unless the program is selected with care, the obvious choices being overdone. Gormley has selected a carefully balanced program, resisting the temptation of Take the A Train and Mood Indigo (although I would enjoy hearing Most tackle the latter on the clarinet) going instead for some popular favorites-In a Mellow Tone, Do Nothing-along with compositions that are less well known without being too obscure, many of them chosen from one of Ellington's most productive periods, 1940-1944. It is a pleasure to hear such selections as Warm Valley, Lotus Blossom and Main Stem.
As for the musicians, Gormley has put together a distinguished and seasoned group of artists.
Guitarist Larry Koonse was the first graduate from the Jazz Studies at the University of Southern California. Since then he has worked with John Dankworth, Mel Torme, Terry Gibbs, Bob Brookmeyer, Billy Childs, David Friesen, and Warne Marsh. He is currently a member of Billy Child's chamber sextet and the L.A. Jazz Quartet. He has been a featured soloist with the L.A. Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and other orchestras throughout the world, and has over eighty recordings to his credit with artists such as Cleo Laine, Jimmy Rowles, Lee Konitz, Alan Broadbent, Ray Brown, Bill Perkins, Toots Thielemanns, Rod Stewart, Linda Ronstadt, Bob Sheppard, Charlie Haden and many other artists. Larry has been a faculty member at the California Institute of the Arts since 1990. Drummer Paul Kreibich has also toured and recorded with some distinguished artists including the late Gene Harris, Ray Charles, Woody Herman, Dianne Reeves and Rosemary Clooney.
The fourth member of the quartet is more than a distinguished performer, he is something of a jazz legend. Dubbed "the father of jazz flute" by Leonard Feather, Sam Most, while best known as a flutist, is also a fine clarinetist and tenor player. In a career extending more than fifty years, he has worked with artists as diverse as Don Redman, Boyd Raeburn, Buddy Rich, Herbie Mann, Chris Connor, Paul Quinichette, Teddy Wilson, Joe Farrell, Tal Farlow, Al Viola, and Kenny Barron. Sam is well known in the L.A. area, but has been largely overlooked and under-recorded, which is why it is such a pleasure to hear him here. His unique, breathy, flute style is heard to great advantage, along with his warm-toned alto and bass flutes-on Warm Valley and Lotus Blossom respectively -and his fluid clarinet work, on Self Portrait and Mellow Tone. (For more information and an interview with Sam Most, see my forthcoming book The Flute in Jazz: Window on World Music.)
There are no histrionics here-perhaps if there were this would be picked up by a larger label. All there is is warm, swinging, inventive playing, well within the boundaries of the genre. The arrangements are carefully crafted and the main soloists perform at a high level throughout. Most's often staccato flute contrasts with Koonse's smooth virtuosity, but both of them spin out lovely lines. Gormley and Kreibich are solid in support, and the bassist contributes some full-toned solos and even some theme statements, as on Just Squeeze Me and Do Nothing ‘Till You Hear From Me.
I think Ellington would have enjoyed this material, in spite of, perhaps because of, the unusual sonorities. The flute was not a characteristic part of Duke's sound until the 1970s when Norris Turney joined the Ellington orchestra. But we know he wanted a flutist as he made efforts to recruit Buddy Collette just for Buddy's prowess on that instrument. And the guitar was also missing from most Ellingtonia, except for guest appearances by Django Reinhardt. Nevertheless, the best music works in a variety of contexts, and Ellington sounds fine in the hands of these artists. Now Gormley, pleased with the response to this recording, is planning a second volume--another all-Ellington program featuring the same players. I would welcome it.