Duke Ellington: Far East Suite

Kurt Gottschalk By

Sign in to view read count
Duke Ellington: Far East Suite Duke Ellington's Far East Suite has never enjoyed the accolades lauded upon some of the Maestro's other major works. Black, Brown and Beige and Such Sweet Thunder are in the Ellington canon; Far East, it seems, was left behind.

That may be due to its dated Orientalism. It was recorded in 1966, a strange few years when jazz was looking to other cultures for inspiration but not embracing ethnic traditions the way it would in the coming decades (witness, for example, John Coltrane's Africa/Brass , from 1961, as compared to the actual African sources that were incorporated into jazz in the subsequent decades).

As such, "Tourist Point of View" is the most appropriately titled piece here. It might be regarded as less significant simply because of its geographical misnomer; except for "Ad Lib on Nippon" (composed in 1964 for the band's first trip to Japan), the pieces actually reference the Middle East, not the Far East. But more likely, Far East Suite hasn't been considered one of Duke Ellington's great works because it just isn't.

But it's a good one, and one that came at an interesting point in Ellington's career. It had been a good decade for the Duke. After his 1956 appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival, he had been remade. For the first part of the ‘50s, he was an old man dragging around a big band when small groups were the thing. But now he was an elder statesman. He and his composing partner, Billy Strayhorn, were pushing for—and often finding—bigger and better. But in 1964, Strayhorn was diagnosed with liver cancer and soon stopped traveling with the band.

Far East Suite was composed in fits and starts following the band's State Department-sponsored tour of Syria, India, Sri Lanka, Iran, Iraq and other countries. During the two years that Ellington and Strayhorn pieced it together (building off the Impressions of the Far East suite first performed in England in 1964), Ellington also premiered the music theater piece My People, wrote the music for a production of Shakespeare's Timon of Athens and, of course, toured his band as much as possible.

As a result, the nine pieces (three by Strayhorn) that make up the suite are scattered and lack an overriding theme; the concept is carried out in the titles more than the music. But it's still a good Duke Ellington record, which is to say it's a great record. Strayhorn's "Agra" is beautiful and "Nippon" is infectious. Duke Ellington's back burner was still hotter than most musician's ovens.

The new issue, the third at least on CD, retains some of the previously issued and alternate takes and adds five new takes, none of which add anything to the original. Duke's men knew what to do, and alternate versions don't provide much by way of alternative. The digipack restores the original cover art, if with a label-branding motif. It is, in other words, the big label trick of selling music fans what they already own. For those who don't already own it, however, it's another opportunity to hear a good piece of Ellingtonia.

Track Listing: 1. Tourist Point of View (Ellington/Strayhorn) - 5:17 2. Bluebird of Delhi (Mynah) (Ellington/Strayhorn) - 3:17 3. Isfahan (Ellington/Strayhorn) - 4:10 4. Depk (Ellington/Strayhorn) - 2:54 5. Mount Harissa (Ellington/Strayhorn) - 7:45 6. Blue Pepper (Far East of the Blues) (Ellington/Strayhorn) - 3:05 7. Agra (Ellington/Strayhorn) - 2:40 8. Amad (Ellington/Strayhorn) - 4:31 9. Ad Lib on Nippon (Ellington) - 11:35 10. Tourist Point of View [alternate take/#/*] (Ellington/Strayhorn) - 5:21 11. Amad [alternate take/#/*] (Ellington/Strayhorn) - 4:16 12. Bluebird of Delhi (Mynah) [alternate take/*] (Ellington/Strayhorn) - 3:18 13. Bluebird of Delhi (Mynah) [alternate take/#/*] (Ellington/Strayhorn) - 3:24 14. Isfahan [alternate take/*] (Ellington/Strayhorn) - 4:20 15. Depk [alternate take/#/*] (Ellington/Strayhorn) - 2:49 16. Mount Harissa [alternate take/#/*] (Ellington/Strayhorn) - 8:47

Personnel: Cat Anderson - Trumpet Mercer Ellington - Trumpet, Flugelhorn Paul Gonsalves - Clarinet, Reeds, Tenor Sax Johnny Hodges - Clarinet, Reeds, Alto Saxophone Cootie Williams - Trumpet Lawrence Brown - Trombone Rufus "Speedy" Jones - Drums Russell Procope - Clarinet, Reeds, Alto Saxophone Chuck Connors - Trombone William Cat Anderson - Trumpet Harry Carney - Clarinet, Reeds, Baritone Saxophone Buster Cooper - Trombone Duke Ellington - Piano Jimmy Hamilton - Clarinet, Reeds, Tenor Saxophone Herb Jones - Trumpet John Lamb - Bass Chuck Conners - Trombone Herbie Jones - Trumpet, Flugelhorn Lawrence D. Brown - Trombone

Title: Far East Suite | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: RCA Victor


comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read The Company I Keep CD/LP/Track Review The Company I Keep
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: June 28, 2017
Read Ma De Re Sha CD/LP/Track Review Ma De Re Sha
by Geno Thackara
Published: June 28, 2017
Read Ask Seek Knock CD/LP/Track Review Ask Seek Knock
by Roger Farbey
Published: June 28, 2017
Read Air and Light and Time and Space CD/LP/Track Review Air and Light and Time and Space
by John Eyles
Published: June 28, 2017
Read Eleven Cages CD/LP/Track Review Eleven Cages
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: June 27, 2017
Read Afro-Caribbean Mixtape CD/LP/Track Review Afro-Caribbean Mixtape
by Mark F. Turner
Published: June 27, 2017
Read "Jinja" CD/LP/Track Review Jinja
by James Nadal
Published: February 11, 2017
Read "IZA" CD/LP/Track Review IZA
by Ian Patterson
Published: April 17, 2017
Read "Collider" CD/LP/Track Review Collider
by John Sharpe
Published: February 28, 2017
Read "Up and Coming" CD/LP/Track Review Up and Coming
by John Kelman
Published: January 6, 2017
Read "Live 1972" CD/LP/Track Review Live 1972
by Roger Farbey
Published: June 5, 2017
Read "Soulmation" CD/LP/Track Review Soulmation
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: April 22, 2017

Smart Advertising!

Musician? Boost your visibility at All About Jazz and drive traffic to your website with our Premium Profile service.