Duke Ellington, 1899-1974, was one of the masters of 20th Century American music. During his 50 year career he explored the jazz form within an orchestra and big band setting, which not only opened new vistas for the art form but made it commercially acceptable for mainstream America.
He created over 1000 compositions during his career. He would constantly rent studio time, creating many tracks that were not issued during his lifetime. So it was with the three suites that comprise this Original Jazz Classic Remasters reissue. The Queen’s Suite (1959), The Goutelas Suite (1971), and The Uwis Suite (1972) were sold to jazz impresario Norman Granz after Ellington’s death, who issued the then-unreleased suites on one album.
“The Queen’s Suite” is by far the best of the three offerings. Ellington met the Queen of England and that inspired him to write the suite of six songs. He pressed one copy and presented it to the Queen and then put the master tapes in the vault. Each of the songs has their own textures but they form a cohesive unit and flow from one to the next. The improvisational “Sunset and the Mocking Bird” and the poignant “Single Petal Of A Rose” are two of his better compositions. Taken as a whole the suite has an understated beauty.
The Goutelas Suite was recorded over a decade later. It is a more disjointed affair with the pieces being more individualistic in nature. The music was inspired by a thirteenth-century chateau. Four of the six songs, including the opening and closing “Fanfare,” are under two-minutes in length and the music never really lets the listener settle in. “Something” and “Having At It” may be a little over-bearing but they are two of his more complicated compositions. They may not be the best of Ellington but they are interesting in their structures.
The three-part “The Uwis Suite” was composed during a period when Ellington was using four letter designations when naming his new songs. The music grew out of a week-long Ellington festival held at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1972 (hence the title). The band conducted clinics and gave concerts. The music is about as playful as Ellington gets. The short “Klop” (polka spelled backwards without the A so it would be four letters) and the nine-minute “Loco-Madi,” which explores Ellington’s fascination with trains” are relaxed rides through his fertile imagination.
The only bonus track is a gem. The previously unreleased “The Kiss” was recorded at the same time as “The Uwis Suite” and is classic Ellington. It is not so much his piano playing or the solos by Johnny Hodges and Paul Gonsalves as it is the overall atmosphere and cohesiveness of the musicians as they bring Ellington’s visions to creation.
As with all the releases in this series, the sound is impeccable and the enclosed booklet informative.
The Ellington Suite may not be the place to start when exploring his legacy. The three suites are also very different and form three distinct listening experiences. Still, “The Queen’s Suite” is a required listen for any fan of Ellington and the rest of the music is at worst interesting. The reissue fills in some of the missing parts in his legacy and as such is welcome.