Duke Ellington's The Far East Suite
is a collection of nine original compositions recorded by Duke and his orchestra in New York way back in 1966. Inspired by a world tour undertaken a few years earlier throughout several Middle Eastern countries, Duke took some cues and decided to make a western interpretation of the sights and sounds he took in. The result is a collection of arguably some of the best music he ever wrote, The Special Mix
edition not a radical change from the original just an update with four alternative takes tacked on the end.
This album is simply magnificent. Tourist Point of View
kicks things off, setting high standards for the musicianship of the following proceedings. The percussion work of Rufus Jones is very strong, as is John Lamb's bass anchoring it whilst the wind section weaves in and out masterfully. The sense of build-up with interweaving melody provides a high excitement, and by the time the screaming trumpets kick in just after the middle you have one of the most thrilling musical moments this reviewer can name. Bluebird of Delhi
works at a much softer pace, with slow, curious sounds swelling in its beginning it's use of clarinet and trumpet is nothing short of melancholy at its finest.
, a saxophone led piece, continues this trend of slow, moody music and comes off as incredibly sad which follows with later track Agra
is a charming but rather silly, bombastic composition, a showcase for the Duke's prowess on the piano which is only bettered by Mount Harissa
, a perfectly constructed effort with its chiming keys ringing out strong. Blue Pepper (Far East Of The Blues)
is possibly the best song on the album, a potential future jazz standard if there ever was one with it's exotic instrumentation and playful, frolicking nature. Amad
is another cool little jazz number that is excellent but not all that different to what came before, whilst Ad Lib on Nippon
is the most piano centered piece on the album, exceeding 11 minutes in length and also closing it.
The Far East Suite
is nothing short of breathtaking, Duke Ellington and the circle of musicians around him were responsible for writing some of the finest jazz ever recorded and this collection of work certainly meets any high standards he may have set for himself elsewhere. The few alternative takes aren't really worth mentioning, they aren't all that different to what made the final cut but if you are into that sort of thing they pad out the rather short release a little more which is good.