It's easy enough to sound good playing the music of Ellington, but the Ellington Dynasty often sounds great, which has as much to do with scholarship as with musicality. The four-horn format can mimic a big band's punch, but primarily, the Dynasty features intelligently scaled-down versions of Ellington's grand concept. More important, drummer Greg Sergo, trumpeter Steve Jensen, saxist Ron Dewar, and their cohorts share a consuming interest in the body of Ellington's work (approximately 2,000 compositions). As a result, you hear the expected tunes, but also the relatively obscure ones (which are consistently surprising in their freshness). The music of Ellington and his collaborator, Billy Strayhorn--who served as the other half of his heartbeat--has been ascendant this year, with several contemporary artists devoting albums to this always modern music. But the Ellington Dynasty is no Johnny-come-lately: it's been amplifying these echoes of Harlem for most of this decade. Perhaps no one captured the feeling of jazz like Ellington, and no band in Chicago captures his sweet thunder like the Dynasty. If you miss them this Saturday, take a rain check and try for New Year's Eve. Saturday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 878-5552. Thursday, Ruggles Cabaret Bar, Royal-George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted; 988-9000.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dan Rest.