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Certainly one of the most significant and exciting jazz discoveries of the year, "The Original Ellington Suite" almost never saw the light of day. In spite of the efforts of re-issue producer extraordinaire, Michael Cuscuna, no one could find this original Chico Hamilton recording of a suite of Ellington tunes that included his second groupand one which significantly involved Eric Dolphy. In fact, "The Original Ellington Suite" reportedly includes the first recorded solos of Eric Dolphy, who would move on soon thereafter to create some of jazz' most magnificent recordings that still are cherished worldwide.
It seems that the Pacific Jazz producer, Dick Bock, preferred the more conventional approach of Hamilton's later reunion group (that included Buddy Collette, Jim Hall, Fred Katz, Carson Smith and Paul Horn) to Dolphy's angularity at the age of 30. Thus, a commercially released version of "Ellington Suite" was released and the version including Dolphy never was. Until now.
Jazz enthusiast John Cobley discovered the first version among the stacks in a British music store and was astounded to find, through peeling layers of discovery, the significance of his purchase. After Cobley contacted Cuscuna, Cuscuna's mission of 25 years was fulfilled.
Presented as an arranged suite of Ellington compositions in similar relaxed tempos and unique instrumentation involving strings and reeds, "The Original Ellington Suite" under-utilizes Dolphy's potential on the two tracks wherein he plays clarinet (one of the few times he plays that instrument). However, on the tunes involving alto sax, Dolphy's command is assured, even as he seems to understate his ability in the interests of unity with the group. While much is made of his influence by Bird, as shown on "Just A-Sittin' And A-Rockin'", a close listen reveals that Dolphy's influences were more complex than that with suggestions of Hodges as well. Dolphy's use of the flute positions him as one of the earlier innovators of that instrument as well.
It may be unfair to focus so much attention on Dolphy at the expense of Hamilton's larger group since "The Original Ellington Suite" features an arranged group sound with interwoven parts, as well as contrasting and complementary timbres. While Dolphy refrains from hinting fully at his unrestrained potential that followed, so do the other musicians. Hamilton, in particular, uses brushwork almost exclusively throughout the recording, except for some effects such as bells, to retain the light, floating interpretation of Ellington standards.
Hamilton's "Ellington Suite" with Collette has been more widely known and distributed. However, the most recent surfacing of the same suite including Dolphy will garner the excitement.
Track Listing: In A Mellotone; In A Sentimental Mood; I'm Just A Lucky So And So; Just A-Sittin' And A-Rockin'; Everything But You; Day Dream; I'm Beginning To See The Light; Azure; It Don't Mean A Thing.
Personnel: Eric Dolphy: saxophone, flute, clarinet; Nate Gershman: cello; John Pisano: guitar; Hal Gaylor: bass; Chico Hamilton: drums.