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Bill Ware Sir Duke Review

Album. Released 30 October 2001.  

BBC Review

Great tunes played with feeling, humour and wit...

Peter Marsh 2002

Duke Ellington's 100th Anniversary will probably trigger a rash of tribute records, but it's a safe bet that this'll be the only one that'll just feature vibraphone and electric guitar. Bill Ware has been a presence on the NY scene for some time; despite starting off as a bassist, he's most well known as a vibes player with the likes of the Jazz Passengers, the Groove Collective and even Steely Dan. His own inventively named Vibes trio has been the focus for his most expressive playing; a blend of Gary Burton-esque lyricism and the darker chromatics of Bobby Hutcherson, enlivened by odd electronic treatments.

Sir Duke pairs Ware with fellow Jazz Passenger and sessioneer to the stars Marc Ribot, for a set of duets from the Ellington songbook, and the feel is relaxed, unfussy and intimate; more the results of an after-hours jam than a carefully planned session. The chameleonic Ribot shines in this setting with his unsurprisngly individual take on the bop guitar tradition. One minute crabbed, spindly lines pick through Ware's chords almost awkwardly, then suddenly there's a passage of effortless, fluid virtuosity which almost takes the breath away. It's difficult to work out what's going on here, but there is a sort of gentle deconstruction of jazz guitar tradition going on; Ribot's playing has some of Kenny Burrell's bluesiness coupled with the harmonic curiosity of Jim Hall, though he opts for a thinner, sharper tone than the average jazz guitarist which sits sweetly with Ware's crystalline chording.

Ware is on great form; his boppish lines cascade dazzlingly over Ribot's agile chordal runs and occasional walking basslines in a manner that would make Roy Ayers envious. There's none of the usual New York PoMo cleverness that permeates some of the other things these guys have done; just great tunes played with feeling, humour and wit. Who knows, Duke might even have liked it...

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