Any jazz writer attempting to claim complete objectivity 100% of the time is simply not being factually correct. For me, Italy is a virtual gold mine for jazz artists with tenor saxophonist Max Ionata simply another well kept global secret in modern jazz today and a personal favorite.
Two For Duke is a incredibly organic take on eleven Ellington classics as Ionata and Moroni do their own riff on these timeless classics with Ionata's warm rich tone breathing new lyrical life into what could be a musical land mine for some performers of far lesser talent. Moroni's warm and at times blues infused harmonic development is a spot on match for this release. Literally a perfect partnership.
Ionata is considered to be somewhat of a late bloomer by most standards having moved to Rome in 2005 to concentrate his efforts on music as his lively hood. Currently Ionata's musical stock is on the rise as he has worked with such luminaries including Mike Stern, Bob Mintzer and most recently Reuben Rogers and Clarence Penn.
Two For Duke works well for a myriad of reasons and while the arrangements are stellar, tune selection at times borders on the somewhat more eclectic of Ellington's vast discography thus showcasing the obvious prolific talent and some beautiful melodies other artists may have forgotten or are simply not as well versed in as Ionata. Some of the more deep catalog selections include "Just Squeeze Me" and "All Too Soon" while two Strayhorn staples "Lotus Blossom" and "The Intimacy Of The Blues" are some of the more memorable highlights of a virtually flawless release. Piano and saxophone duets are seemingly not as common as some would think with this particular recording reminiscent of a magnificent Blue Note outing of standards by Stan Getz and Albert Dailey (Poetry, Blue Note 1983 ). Musical frames of reference are inherently unfair but if logical comparisons based on technique alone were made along side American players then Oscar Peterson and Hank Mobley may not be too far off the beaten path here.
A true duet recording in every sense of the word finds a delightful partnership performing a sonic exploratory with both Ionata and Moroni as technically proficient and artistically gifted as any pair of first call players you may hear at The Vanguard or perhaps Smalls in New York City. For this pair to present their own riff on one of the most iconic figures in modern music and do so without performing a shred of self indulgent re-harmonization yet leave their own indelible mark on the music makes this release a triumph. Ellington covers and tribute releases have been done to death but...never done this well!
5 Stars! One of the very best for 2012.
Tracks: All Day Long; Lotus Blossom; Perdido; Day Dream; The Intimacy Of The Blues; All Too Soon; Just Squeeze Me; Heaven; What Am I Hear For?; Come Sunday; In My Solitude.
Personnel: Max Ionata: tenor saxophone; Dado Moroni: piano.
Max Ionata in New York a few weeks ago via You Tube.