Tom Harrison (as), Cleveland Watkiss (v), Robert Mitchell (p), Daniel Casimir (b) and David Lyttle (d). Rec. 2016
These live recordings of compositions associated with Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn begin with 'Take the A Train' and while firmly in the spirit of the Duke, the players impose their own individuality on the material. Cleveland Watkiss, well-known for his wide range of vocal references and styles, introduces it with steam train noises before going into scat, although closer to Slim Gaillard than Betty Roche. Daniel Casimir's walking bass and pianist Robert Mitchell's firmly underpinned melody enable the others to stretch; David Lyttle's drums especially busy. Harrison's solos give a relaxed feel, hard edged at times.
The rest is a mixture of the familiar and lesser known. Watkiss' easy rapport with the audience comes over; on Sy Oliver's 'The Minor Goes Muggin'' a call and response interlude is interspersed with muted trumpet impersonation. Harrison's horn slips into a soul groove, Mitchell's vamps and runs on piano leading the rhythm section. Good straight ahead playing.
Lyttle's drums alternately give an urgency, fragmentation and lay down a solid rhythm. Casimir's bass a reliable bedrock with which the soloists can work, glimpses of virtuosity in his solos, especially on 'Intimacy of the Blues'; Harrison's forthright blowing is featured and Watkiss engages the audience in more Gaillardese vout. The band continues its varied approach through 'Solitude' and 'Things Ain't What They Used To Be' and recollections of the Duke/Coltrane session surface in 'My Little Brown Book'; Harrison an attentive accompanist then assuming command, pushing and probing, before Mitchell shows what an expressive player he is. The final track, 'Warm Valley', an unaccompanied solo by Harrison, underlines his Ducal appreciation.
– Matthew Wright