The Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter has put out a Duke Ellington tribute album. Surely, nothing can go wrong here, right?
Razor & Tie, 2012
4.1 / 10.0
Joe Jackson has been around long enough that he can put out a Duke Ellington tribute album with no objections. The Duke is made up of fifteen Duke Ellington standards spread out over ten tracks, and Jackson’s press release makes the album out to be something that he has wanted to do for decades, not unlike Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin. It’s unfortunate, then, that Jackson’s attempts at putting a spin on the Duke’s music result in lifeless music for the most part, with too many tracks resorting to electronic gimmickry that would be more at home in a video game. I understand that a project like this requires drastically reworking the original material, but most folks know better than to let Iggy Pop croon on a pedestrian take on “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”. Also, making a Duke Ellington tribute album without using horns (like The Duke) is like making a Jimi Hendrix tribute album without using guitars.
I won’t deny that the execution is on point, and there are a few times when Jackson comes across a good idea, such as letting Sharon Jones sing on “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But The Blues – Do Nothin’ Till”. It should be noted, though, that a fantastic jazz covers album has already seen release this year—BADBADNOTGOOD’s BBNG2, which features inventive covers of songs by Odd Future and Kanye West and transforms the original material into something with an alien, vibrant identity, and remains one of the my favorite albums of the year so far. On the flip side, The Duke’s experiments alternate between boring and cheesy, and even its best moments make one yearn to hear the original music over this interpretation, making for an album that is difficult to recommend to all but the most ardent Jackson supporters.