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Ed Neumeister: Suite Ellington

Dan McClenaghan By

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Trombonist Ed Neumeister opened his excellent quartet outing, New Standards (Meistero Music, 2005) with an energized take Duke Ellington's signature tune, "Take The 'A' Train." It was apparent that he had a way with Duke's music. A quick dip into Neumeister's resume finds that he played in Duke Ellington's Orchestra for sixteen years, post-Duke, when the maestro's son, Mercer, held the baton. So he has the great experience of a marination in one of America's Greatest Composer's music. With Suite Ellington, Neumeister stands and salutes Ellington again, leading an adept and malleable sextet through nine nicely-chosen, (mostly) lesser-known but still classic tunes.

The group opens with "Caravan"—the only tune on the set not Ellington or Ellington/Strayhorn-penned. It one of Ellington's signature pieces, as familiar as any jazz standard out there. Written by Juan Tizol, trombonist in the Ellington Orchestra through the 1930s into the early 1940s. It is a rambling, rollicking trek, wagons veering off the beaten path. At ten minutes there is much room for ample solo space for saxophonist Billy Drewes, who takes it a bit "out there," Neumeister, who takes it even further, searing his notes inside a turbulent rhythm section: drummer Jeff Ballard, bassist Peter Herbert, with Fritz Pauer on piano. Then that rhythm section gets a chance to roll, with Ballard bumping and pushing the sound forward, Pauer pointing out small, poignant scenes encountered along the way.

"Come Sunday," from Ellington's Black, Brown and Beige (RCA Records, 1958), opens with pianist Pauer's piano reverie, before Billy Drewes' clarinet accepts the invite to a duet, leading into Neumeister's worked-up work on trombone, in duet with bassist Herbert. Liberties taken with Ellington's original give a new twist to the tune, as freedom rings.

The string of jewels in this set is Neumeister and crew's take on Ellington's "The Queen's Suite," one of Ellington's finest—and one of his more overlooked—works. Recorded in 1958, the six part suite was not officially issued until 1976 on Pablo Records The Ellington Suites. The music was written in honor of Queen Elizabeth. Ellington, after meeting Her Majesty, wrote and recorded the music, had a single copy of it pressed and arranged for its delivery to Buckingham Palace. He must have been quite taken with the woman, for the music is sweet and tender (Sunset And the Mockingbird, "A Single Petal Of A Rose"), sometimes combining the majestic with the goofy ("Lightening Bugs And Frogs"), and wraps itself up with some hard-driving swing ("Ape And Peacocks."). Neumeister's version here is twenty-six minutes of flexible reverence to the original, with the sextet playing with a and admirable level of inspiration and verve.

The CD closes with a piece from another overlooked Ellington masterpiece, The Far East Suite (Bluebird Records, 1967). The tune is DEPK. It swings, big time, driven by Fritz Pauer's piano. Pauer, sadly, passed a bit after this live recorded was laid down. His solo in the song is a wonder.

Track Listing: Caravan; Come Sunday; The Queens Suite: (Sunset and the Mocking Bird; Lightning Bugs & Frogs; Le Sucrier Velours; The Single Pedal of a Rose; Northern Lights; Apes and Peacocks); DEPK.

Personnel: Ed Neumeister: trombone; Billy Drewes: clarinet and alto sax; Jim Rotondi: trumpet and flugelhorn; Fritz Pauer: piano; Peter Herbert: bass; Jeff Ballard: drums.

Title: Suite Ellington | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Pao Records


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