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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, Marc Bridle, John Eyles, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby



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DUKE ELLINGTON’S

Far East Suite

Bluebird 82876-55614-2

 


  1. Tourist Point of View
  2. Bluebird of Delhi (Mynah)
  3. Isfahan
  4. Depk
  5. Mount Harissa
  6. Blue Pepper (Far East of the Blues)
  7. Agra
  8. Amad
  9. Ad Lib on Nippon

  10. Alternative Takes
  11. Tourist Point of View
  12. Amad
  13. Bluebird of Delhi
  14. Bluebird of Delhi
  15. Isfahan
  16. Depk
  17. Mount Harissa

Duke Ellington – Piano
Harry Carney, Russell Precope, Johnny Hodges, Jimmy Hamilton, Paul Gonsalves – Reeds
Lawrence Brown, Buster Cooper, Chuck Conners – Trombones
Cootie Williams, Cat Anderson, Mercer Ellington, Herbie Jones – Trumpets
John Lamb – Bass
Rufus Jones – Drums
All tracks recorded at RCA Victor Studios New York in 1966.

All of the themes were composed and arranged by Ellington and Billy Strayhorn and the idea for the suite came following the Ellington Band’s tour of the Middle East and India in 1963. The tour was sponsored by the State Dept. during John F Kennedy’s time as President, the schedule of which was cut short by Kennedy’s assassination.

Duke Ellington holds a unique place in the world of jazz, by combining interesting arrangements, an immediately sound, different instrumental voicing, with the freedom for exceptional soloists to improvise, he is probably the most significant figure in the development of the jazz big band.

Tourist Point of View is a natural vehicle for the delicious sound of Paul Gonsalves tenor, whilst Jimmy Hamilton’s clarinet is heavily featured on Bluebird. Both of these compositions are both complex and easy to listen to, Hamilton’s clarinet like Gonsalves tenor playing is of virtuosi standard.

Following these two features is a solo by another of the genre’s greatest performers Johnny Hodges, for sheer beauty of tone and expressive playing; he was in a league of his own. The melodic content of the piece is again high and this is another superb track. The interesting feature of Depk is the superb ensemble playing of the band. Mount Harissa is a Latin composition with a theme statement by the Duke, well supported by John Lamb on bass and Rufus Jones on drums. Jimmy Hamilton is again featured on tenor and he contributes another fine melodic solo against the gently swinging ensemble, before the Duke takes us out with the rhythm section.

Blue Pepper has a real Middle East flavour about it, Hodges is again the soloist and there is some high note trumpet, but the soloist is not identified. Carney’s full rounded baritone sound takes us into Agra, poor Russell Precope who was himself a very fine sax player never really got a look in amongst these giants of the instrument!

Amad has a Middle Eastern feel as well, but this time the theme is stated by the trombone section led by Lawrence Brown, who is also the soloist. This track has a ‘Caravan’ feel about it, the precision of the ensemble playing is very polished. Many of the Duke’s sidemen had been in the band for a long time when these tracks were recorded.

Ad Lib Nippon was originally written for the band visit to Japan in 1964, but the Duke decided to incorporate it in the suite.

The alternative takes contain nothing startlingly different, there are some slight changes of emphasis in the ensembles and of course the solos are different.

Although this music has been around for some time, I have not hard it before. As someone who came late to an appreciation of the Ellington Band, I am now a great fan and for me this is an important release. The Duke, aided and abetted by Billy Strayhorn, produced exciting and interesting new music which is accessible to the first time listener. The ensemble sound of the band is just perfect and the soloists fit in with the band and they are among the best
I have ever heard.

My recommendation for this record is buy it!

Don Mather



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