“Duke Ellington: The Far East Suite – Special Mix”
was originally recorded in December 1966. It was
reissued on CD during 1995, and is a 60-minute
collection of 13 tracks, the last four of which are
alternate takes, inspired by the trips Ellington and
his orchestra made to various cities. These include
Madras, Kabul, Bombay, Ankara and Tehran, to
name a few. The trip was taken in 1963, under
the auspices of the State Department. Evidently,
these nine pieces, originally released in 1967
under the RCA Victor label, bore rich musical fruit.
Honestly, these numbers wear their Eastern
influence lightly. In fact, Ellington observed that
the rhythms and harmonies or scales weren’t
so much copied as they were “absorbed.”
The resulting compositions, seven of which
were written with his longtime “right-hand man,”
Billy Strayhorn, can be said to have a foreign
influence without being imitative. To my ears,
this was primarily heard in the rhythm section,
particularly demonstrated by drummer Rufus Jones.
As always, the sophistication of the harmonies
and arrangements tailored for this 15-piece
ensemble were impressive. Star players,
such as baritone saxophonist Harry Carney,
alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, and
tenor saxophonist Paul Gonzalves were given
ample opportunities to shine. This was the
debut recording for the aforementioned
Rufus Jones with this band, and he did a
great job with the exotic rhythms.
Special mention should be made regarding
the sound quality of this Bluebird label reissue.
In one of the three accompanying essays,
producer Orin Keepnews does that and more.
From a fidelity standpoint, Ellington and his
band has never sounded better.
I highly recommend this CD.