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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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Ellington Uptown /
The Liberian Suite /
Masterpieces by Ellington

Essential Jazz Classics EJC 55655




1. Skin Deep

2. The Mooche

3. Take the “A” Train

4. Perdido

5. The Controversial Suite Part 1 (Before My Time)

6. The Controversial Suite Part 2 (Later)

7. A Tone Parallel to Harlem (The Harlem Suite)

8. The Liberian Suite: I Like the Sunrise

9. The Liberian Suite: Dance No. 1

10. The Liberian Suite: Dance No. 2

11. The Liberian Suite: Dance No. 3

12. The Liberian Suite: Dance No. 4

13. The Liberian Suite: Dance No. 5


1. Mood Indigo

2. Sophisticated Lady

3. The Tattooed Bride

4. Solitude

5. The Tattooed Bride (Live at Carnegie Hall)

6. Come on Home

7. The Liberian Suite: I Like the Sunrise (alternate take)

8. The Liberian Suite: I Like the Sunrise (vocal alternate take)

9. The Liberian Suite: Dance No. 1 (alternate take)

10. The Liberian Suite: Dance No. 3 (incomplete take)

Collective personnel

Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn - Piano

Cat Anderson, Clark Terry, Willie Cook, Harold “Shorty” Baker,

Francis Williams, Shelton Hemphill, Nelson Williams,

Fats Ford - Trumpets

Clark Terry- Trumpet, flugelhorn

Ray Nance – Trumpet, violin, vocals

Mercer Ellington - Flugelhorn

Lawrence Brown, Quentin Jackson, Britt Woodman, Juan Tizol,

Claude Jones – Trombones

Tyree Glenn – Trombone, vibes

Jimmy Hamilton – Clarinet, tenor sax

Russell Procope – Alto sax, clarinet

Johnny Hodges, Willie Smith, Hilton Jefferson – Alto sax

Paul Gonsalves, Al Sears – Tenor sax

Harry Carney – Baritone sax, clarinet, bass clarinet

Fred Guy - Guitar

Wendell Marshall, Oscar Pettiford, Junior Raglin, Jimmy Woode – Bass

Louie Bellson, Sam Woodyard – Drums

Elaine Jones - Tympani

Betty Roché, Al Hibbler, Yvonne Lanauze, Jimmy Grissom - Vocals

Ellington Uptown was released in 1952 with five tracks: the first four here, plus Tone Parallel to Harlem. This was a strange mixture containing several gems. Louie Bellson’s composition Skin Deep established him as a top-class drummer. I can remember listening to it over and over again, marvelling at the skill with which he built up his drum solo, only marred by the ineffectual splashing of cymbals towards the end. The Mooche is a long version of an Ellington classic, retaining its air of mystery and including several notable solos. Take the “A” Train is another long-form version of Billy Strayhorn’s composition which became the signature tune for the Ellington band. The main difference from previous performances is the vocal by Betty Roché, that brings a bebop influence to the orchestra, which swings unstoppably. Perdido is yet again an extended version of a familiar Ellington piece. This allows the musicians, including Clark Terry and Jimmy Woode, to play long solos. A Tone Parallel to Harlem is a further Ducal classic, portraying the sounds and atmosphere of Harlem.

The Liberian Suite was originally released in 1948, commissioned for the Liberian centennial. It is not one of Ellington’s stronger compositions, with a vapid vocal by Al Hibbler in the opening I Like the Sunrise and five movements conveying through African rhythms the spirit of Liberia, a country founded by slaves. It is a shame that the movements of the suite offer no cohesion, so it sounds fragmentary. It is mostly rather indeterminate, except for the lively second dance, which has good clarinet from Jimmy Hamilton and unexpected vibes from Tyree Glenn. Eventually The Liberian Suite was issued on the same album as Ellington Uptown. The four alternate takes added at the end of this compilation add little to the effect of the suite.

The Controversial Suite might be described as a musical parody, with the first movement burlesqueing the of Dixieland music, and the second predicting what jazz might sound like in future years. It is an untypical but enjoyable piece of Ellingtonia.

In 1950, the band recorded Masterpieces by Ellington (the first four tracks of CD2), which was released in 1951. It was the band’s first long-playing record - offering the ability to record longer tracks than previously. Duke therefore recorded long versions of three of some of his most famous songs, together with the entirely new The Tattooed Bride which lasted more than eleven minutes. This reissue of the album adds a live version of the latter. None of the tracks lasts for less than eight minutes (the length of Solitude). Sophisticated Lady clocks in at eleven and a half minutes, while Mood Indigo lasts for an incredible 15-plus minutes. These lengths give Ellington a chance to introduce harmonic variations of the melodies and also allow his musicians to play extended solos. The soloists in Mood Indigo include a rhapsodic Johnny Hodges, an audacious Ellington, and a muted Juan Tizol. Yvonne Lanauze contributes a soulful vocal. These are daring versions of familiar Ducal compositions. You might expect their length to make them tedious but Ellington keeps the listener listening as he moves from one aspect of a tune to another.

This is a well-filled double CD which contains some of the Duke’s best - and most varied – music.

Tony Augarde

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