Ellington Uptown was originally released in 1951; several reissues have appeared since. This year’s reissue includes bonus tracks. While the original—with Clark Terry and Louie Bellson, but without Johnny Hodges—has been viewed with contrasting opinions over the years, it remains solid Ellingtonian swing with an emphasis on individual artists. Bellson, Terry, Paul Gonsalves, Betty Roche, Cat Anderson and Quentin Jackson each have plenty of opportunities to characterize the Ellington orchestra the way the Duke had envisioned it.
These full-length concert arrangements were special in their day. Longer than most recordings, they gave the band more freedom. Sony has included bonus tracks: the 10-inch LP Liberian Suite, including “I Like the Sunrise,” and Ellington’s exotic Dances 1 through 5; as well as the “Controversial Suite,” comprised of “Before My Time” and “Later,” which were also recorded in December of 1951.
”Controversial Suite” includes two pieces that are intended to show the contrast between traditional jazz of the period just following World War II and the new “progressive” jazz that was just catching on. Ellington proved that his orchestra could swing in either format. “Before My Time” opens with a wailing front line that features the Dixieland swing of Jimmy Hamilton, Russell Procope, Terry, Jackson, Shorty Baker, Ray Nance, and the band. Trombonist Jackson carries the unit through tailgate antics, Procope swings with a soprano saxophone cry, and Louie Bellson provides an authentic New Orleans shuffle step.
“Later,” after opening with its permeating tick-tock theme, captures the dense harmonies and deeper textures of “progressive” jazz, and what Stan Kenton had been ushering in as symphonic jazz and neophonic jazz. This piece serves as a reminder of the many orchestral suites that came from Ellington’s pen, and how they changed the face of modern jazz.
Liberian Suite, recorded on December 24, 1947 at Liederkranz Hall in New York, includes individual solo spotlights on Harry Carney, Al Hibbler, Ray Nance, Tyree Glenn, Lawrence Brown and several others. Exotic in nature, the suite carried swing on a journey to distant lands and back. Ellington’s journeys have always been able to take his audience to distant lands. This recommended album carries early elements of the composer’s extended concepts forward, and delivers them with improved sound.
Personnel: Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn- piano; Oscar Pettiford, Junior Raglin, Wendell Marshall- bass; Louie Bellson- drums; Sonny Greer- drums, tympani on