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
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
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
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!