In 1962, Duke Ellington recorded a trio date with bassist Charlie Mingus and drummer Max Roach that is today considered one of the pivotal jazz recordings of the 1960s. Money Jungle, the 1963 album that emerged from the session, was – among other things – a commentary on the perennial tug-of-war between art and commerce. In some ways, the album’s 11 tracks were intended as a sort of counterbalance to the capitalist bent of the Mad Men generation.
Fifty years later, this precarious balance in the world of jazz – or in any art form, for that matter – hasn’t changed much. Enter GRAMMY® Award-winning drummer, composer and bandleader Terri Lyne Carrington, who enlists the aid of two high-profile collaborators – keyboardist Gerald Clayton and bassist Christian McBride – to pay tribute to Duke, his trio and his creative vision with a cover of this historic recording.
In preparation for the project, Carrington read up on Duke’s biography. “I felt like a method actor, she says. “I just dug as deep as I could in the time that I had to get a glimpse of his perspective on things. When you start rearranging music by someone like Duke Ellington, you better feel really good about what you’re doing. In the end, I felt confident that I didn’t do him a disservice, because he was a very open-minded artist, and he was very much about moving forward.”
Carrington considers her Money Jungle – like its predecessor – primarily a trio album, but she’s not averse to some enhancement and additional textures along the way. Helping out with the rearrangements and reinterpretations is an impressive list of guest artists: trumpeter Clark Terry, trombonist Robin Eubanks, reed players Tia Fuller and Antonio Hart, guitarist Nir Felder, percussionist Arturo Stabile and vocalists Shea Rose and Lizz Wright. Herbie Hancock appears in a spoken word segment as the voice of Duke Ellington.
The set opens with the driving title track, which opens with the simple but unsettling spoken-word observation about a capitalist society: “You have to create problems to create profit.” Despite the ominous message, the music that follows is surprisingly bouyant, thanks to an elastic rhythm set up by Carrington in support of her collaborators’ exploratory piano and bass interplay. All of it is peppered with clips from speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr., Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and others.
The pace slows down a bit with “Fleurette Africain,” a track that features Robin Eubanks on trombone, and Tia Fuller and Antonio Hart on flutes, as well as the iconic Clark Terry on trumpet. Terry also delivers a stream-of-conscious vocal line that’s part spoken-word part scatting. “Getting Clark Terry on this track was one of the most special parts of the record, because he’s someone who is really connected to Duke Ellington,” says Carrington. “My first gig was with Clark at 10 years old then I joined his band when I was 18, after I had left home and moved to New York. His vocals really bring it home for me, and this track kind of brings my career full circle.”
Vocalist Lizz Wright – who has participated in numerous live performances in support of Carrington’s all-female, GRAMMY®-Award winning recording, The Mosaic Project – steps up to the mic for “Backward Country Boy Blues.” The track begins in the spirit of deep Delta gospel, then morphs into something much more contemporary and orchestrated. All the while, Wright’s atmospheric vocals bring an element of mystery to the track.
Carrington inserts two of her own compositions into the set – the syncopated yet melodic “Grass Roots” and the ominous-turned-lively “No Boxes (Nor Words)” – along with “Cut Off,” a delicate piece written by Clayton. The three tracks replace “Warm Valley,” “Caravan” and “Solitude,” which appear on Duke’s original Money Jungle but were not written specifically for the date. In tribute to Ellington and his original work, Clayton’s “Cut Off” does include numerous melodic references to “Solitude.”
The set ends on the quiet notes of “Rem Blues/Music,” which features the voices of Shea Rose and Herbie Hancock. Rose works her way through the song with a spoken-word recitation of the poem, “Music,” which compares the art form to a multi-faceted and irresistibly seductive woman. Hancock closes the track quoting Duke Ellington, with observations about the role of music in society and the popularity of money versus the popularity of art.
The music of Duke’s Money Jungle may have first emerged a half-century ago, but “there’s nothing old about great music and great musicians,” says Carrington, who sees her own Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue as addressing some of the same issues as its 1963 predecessor. “There’s always something that’s new, if you know how to listen to it. You have to be able to appreciate the past if you want to have a future. I think that’s a big part of our job as artists and entertainers and educators – to keep reminding the younger musicians how important our predecessors were – especially the people who made the music what it is today. So it was my goal to bring some fresh light and fresh energy to some of Duke’s music in general and this recording in particular.”