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Album Review | Rock

Joe Jackson, ‘The Duke’

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Jazz isn’t for everyone. It’s certainly not for Joe Jackson. The singer and pianist, who has made some of the pop-rock era’s finest records, manages to turn jazz’s greatest composer into schlock. On “The Duke,” Jackson covers 15 Ellington tunes over 10 tracks. Now, there’s interpreting a song, and there’s turning a song into pap. Jackson does the latter. “Isfahan” is stripped of life, its synthetic strings suggesting Yanni’s in the house. New Age meets prog-rock in an ugly rendition of “Caravan.” The countrified redo of “Mood Indigo” is just wrong, and “Rockin’ in Rhythm” relies on electronic percussion circa Milli Vanilli. The permeating stink of this album is puzzling, given the all-star cast, which includes violinist Regina Carter, bassist Christian McBride, guitarist Steve Vai, and members of The Roots. Jackson sings on only a few songs, and when he does — especially on “I’m Beginning to See the Light” — he sounds like “Weird Al” Yankovic parodying Ellington. Guests provide the rest of the vocals, with mixed results — the worst being Iggy Pop’s nightmarish take on “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).” “The Duke” is an awful, awful record. It ain’t got any swing, and it don’t mean a thing. (Out Tuesday)


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