Is there a better match than the buttery flugelhorn tone of Art Farmer and Billy Strayhorn's aptly named composition, “Lush Life”? Actually, Farmer proves that there is on his heartrending intro to Duke Ellington's “In a Sentimental Mood,” which edges out stiff competition from a hundred other songs to be the most quintessentially beautiful Art Farmer solo.
Recorded in 1975 a year after the death of Duke Ellington, this homage also graced Farmer with the debut of his most complementary ensemble, and one that rivaled his Jazztet with Benny Golson for sheer talent. Pianist Cedar Walton is so august and efficiently nimble that the occasional blues smear or sprightly swing riff he drops into the fray have a powerfully illicit impact, like guerrilla contraband. And drummer Billy Higgins once again makes like the Muhammad Ali of jazz rhythm, seemingly floating on air one minute and then fluidly delivering a devastating two-handed punch the next. Unsung bassist Sam Jones provides rhythmic elbow grease and steps to the fore with a strong opening solo and then a long break-out on “It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing).” Along with these well-known Ellington staples, there is a rendition of Duke's very obscure “The Brown Skin Gal in the Calico Gown” among the half-dozen quartet offerings. The depth and consistency of their elegance is appropriately reminiscent of the composer-bandleader they are fêting.