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On Dukes Birthday by Mike Westbrook Orchestra

This is the second and now re-mastered edition of the original 1984 LP by famed British composer/bandleader, Mike Westbrook’s commissioned work, in recognizance of the tenth anniversary of Duke Ellington’s passing. Recorded live at a French theater, this album sounds endearingly fresh and vibrant, as it did upon the initial release. Westbrook’s compositions and arrangements for the 11-piece orchestra duly capture the spirit of Ellington’s chromatic horn parts and sensibilities. However, the music iterated here duly stands on its own. And it’s a magnificent, multidimensional study in compositional form.

Westbrook seemingly intakes Ellington’s musical aura and wraps it all into a deeply personalized output of gradually ascending themes and an easy-going gate. But when it’s crunch time, the soloists raise the ante with airy voicings and buoyantly exercised swing patterns. At times electric guitarist Brian Gooding injects an ominous cloud into the proceedings via his fiery rock guitar phrasings amid the horn section’s punchy charts. Brimming with the soloists’ torrid breakouts and a potpourri of tender moments, Westbrook acutely merges the old school fundamentals with a modern day footprint.

In various intersecting passages, the music also takes on a roots-driven world music flavor, often counterbalanced with blaring horns, where themes are restated in multihued frameworks. Trumpeter/vocalist Phil Minton’s mimics an old-time wah-wah, muted trumpet line with his voice in one passage and there is a Dominique Pifarely’s gorgeous violin solo on the lyrically-resplendent piece titled "East Stratford Too-Doo." Ultimately, Westbrook’s arrangements are designed with interesting contrasts, such as sugary flute vamps hovering atop gruff trombone parts and the band’s triumphant choruses. It’s a comprehensive work indeed, and for those who wore out the LP, here’s your chance to upgrade to the digitally enhanced version.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Mike Westbrook Orchestra
  • CD Title: On Dukes Birthday
  • Genre: Various Jazz Styles
  • Year Released: 2007
  • Reissue Original Release: 1984
  • Record Label: hatOLOGY
  • Rating: Four Stars
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