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. Carrington’s Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue was released by Concord Jazz on Feb. 5, 2013.
Duke’s original recording is something that has haunted Carrington since she first heard it about a decade ago. “I had bought it on CD, from the discount bin in a music store,” she says in a news release. “I put it on in my car, and I immediately just felt something mysterious about it. There was just an energy that moved through the tracks. Duke and Charles and Max had a chemistry about them. There was this tension that you could hear, and yet they fit together like a hand in a glove.”
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 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.”