This Pablo set has odds and ends taken from nine different recording/rehearsal sessions that find Ellington experimenting a bit with instrumentation and personnel, even taking a vocal on the tongue-in-cheek "Moon Maiden." Performances range from a couple of vigorous trio workouts and spots for Wild Bill Davis's organ to a few big-band performances. Even this late in his life, Duke Ellington had a great deal to say musically and his band continued to rank near the top. ~ Scott Yanow, All Music Guide
One might think this disc would focus on the more romantic side of the Ellington-Strayhorn catalog. But don't let the title fool you. Mathias Ruegg's large band gives tunes like "Red Garter" and "Smada" a playful, blasting treatment. Particularly noteworthy is the transformation of "Mood Indigo" into something of a drunkard's lament, with a deep, wobbling trombone line. It's a labor of love that some Ellington purists might find a bit appalling, but it deserves kudos for its new approach.
This unassuming and delightful little album visits a time when jazz and blues were still directly entwined, drawing on the ghosts of guitarists like Charlie Christian, Eddie Durham, Bill Jennings, Tiny Grimes, Barney Kessel, and Kenny Burrell, guitarists who used the blues to enrich the jazz pieces they played on, a kind of ensemble contribution that is all too frequently missing on the contemporary blues scene. Duke Robillard, Jay Geils, and Gerry Beaudoin are all gifted guitar players, each with his own career, but as a trio working three-part harmony lines around each other, they bring a stately ensemble grace to the tracks on New Guitar Summit (the trio also appears under that name when they do live shows)…
In the jazz world, Vienna is about as far from New York's Lincoln Center as you can get. It follows that Mathias Rüegg's Vienna Art Orchestra has about as much in common with Wynton Marsalis' Lincoln Center big band as a Sacher torte has with a Hostess Cup Cake; while they share some ingredients, the Austrian product satisfies on a more profound level. By the turn of the century, the Lincoln Center paradigm defined the jazz big band as a finished concept – locked into the past, serving mostly as a repertory ensemble. The VAO, on the other hand, while hardly ignoring traditional jazz verities, lives in the present and looks to the future.