Here’s a crisp set of eleven tunes either written by Duke Ellington or popularized by him, by a couple of Italian jazz aces a half generations apart: pianist Dado Moroni and tenor saxophonist Max Ionata. This might not be the first time a piano/sax duet has been the vehicle to render Duke songs, but Ionata and Moroni do a splendid job taking tunes that were originally intended for elaborate orchestration and make them intimate, beautifully bare and airy hymns.
Each song either bounces with overt cheer, like “All Day Long” or “What Am I Here For?” or caresses with somber, sometime melancholy ballads like “Lotus Blossom,” “Day Dream,” and “Heaven,” where Ionata swaps his tenor sax for a weeping soprano. The interaction isn’t terribly complicated but at the same time, it can only come about through an instinctual connection between the two; check out the tight interplay on “Perdido” for a sparkling example. Moroni switches over to standup bass for “Just Squeeze Me” and he definitely brings his pianist mentality to that instrument when constructing these bass lines; see the video below of him performing the song on the piano, there is that same swing:
The program ends with “In My Solitude,” where Moroni not only dubs in a bass but also sings the song with a cultivated, sincere croon.
There are no gimmicks, no flashy, over-the-top blustery playing. Just a couple of guys getting together to deliver heartfelt, thoughtful performances of songs that matter so much in jazz. The flawless execution of this mission says all the listeners’ needs to know about how they feel about Ellington’s music and the legacy it left on the music they ply their trade in.