When Mercer Ellington decided to keep his father’s orchestra alive, after Duke Ellington’s demise, he chose the word ‘Continuum’ for the title of the outfit’s first post-Duke recording. This is the word that constantly comes to mind, when I think of Vincent Gardner and Belinda Munro, who are touring Australia these days.
Vincent Gardner is certainly part of this continuum; not only because it was Mercer Ellington who hired him for his first professional job; not only because he has played with the Ellington orchestra (which, as anyone who has listened to it, remains far from a ghost band, often preferring fresh arrangements with a nod to Ellingtonia); not only because he’s now an integral part of the other outfit claiming to keep the ellingtonia flame alive, Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at the Lincoln Centre Orchestra – which featured the late Joe Temperley, also hand-picked by Mercer Ellington to fill Harry Carney’s shoes in ‘Continuum’; not only because his long list of credentials include Illinois Jacquet, Clark Terry, Jimmy Heath, Frank Foster, Bobby McFerrin, Harry Connick Jr. Chaka Khan and Lauryn Hill. But mostly because all these experiences and all these interactions are all present when he plays, all shades of bop merging together with r’n’b and swing, to create a signature sound full of joy and warmth and transmissive energy – his voice, in other words.
Listen to him present a tribute to J.J. Johnson and see how he’s bringing this music to the present, while at the same time staying respectful to the tradition and the legacy of which he acts as a proud carrier.
Belinda Munro, on the other hand, is carrying a tradition of another kind. A charismatic performer of rare versatility with a rich, soulful voice, the Canadian-Caribbean vocalist has made a name for herself singing alongside artists of the caliber of Mary J. Blige, Celine Dion and Luciano Pavarotti. Her singing brings to mind another type of continuum – that of the gospel tradition, passed on to the soul-r’n’b sound, via the musical theatre stages. Hers is a big voice, in other words, big enough to include a huge variety of influences and references, and carry the listener to a journey throughout musical history.
To say that Belinda Munro and Vincent Gardners marriage is one made in music heaven would be both a cliche and an understatement. The couple is now on a tour around Australia, accompanied by a brilliant rhythm section.
Make sure not to miss them.