The Far East Suite

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The Far East Suite
Far east Suite Ellington.jpg
Studio album by Duke Ellington
Released 1967
Recorded December 19-21, 1966
Studio New York City
Genre Jazz, big band
Length 60:54
Label Bluebird/RCA
Producer Brad McKuen
Duke Ellington chronology
The Popular Duke Ellington
(1967)The Popular Duke Ellington1967
The Far East Suite
(1967)
...And His Mother Called Him Bill
(1968)...And His Mother Called Him Bill1968

The Far East Suite is an album by Duke Ellington that won the Grammy Award in 1968 for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance – Large Group or Soloist with Large Group. Ellington and Billy Strayhorn wrote the compositions. The album was reissued in 1995 with four previously unreleased alternate takes.[1] In 2003, Bluebird Records issued the album on CD with additional bonus takes.

Strayhorn died in May 1967, making The Far East Suite the final album released during his life to feature his compositions.

Background[edit]

The album's title is something of a misnomer: as critics Richard Cook and Brian Morton have noted, "it really should have been The Near East Suite."[2] Strictly speaking, only one track – "Ad Lib on Nippon", inspired by a 1964 tour of Japan – is concerned with a country in the "Far East". The rest of the music on the album was inspired by a world tour undertaken by Ellington and his orchestra in 1963, which included performances in Damascus, Amman, Ramall'ah, Kabul, New Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore (now Bengaluru), Madras (now Chennai), Bombay (now Mumbai), Calcutta (now Kolkata), Columbo, Kandy, Dacca (now Dhaka), Lahore, Karachi, Tehran, Isfahan, Abadan, Baghdad, and Beirut. The band arrived in Ankara but U.S. President John F Kennedy was assassinated the day before its concert, and the State Department cancelled the tour. Scheduled performances in Istanbul, Nicosia, Cairo, Alexandria, Athens, Thessaloniki, and a week added to the tour for Yugoslavia were cancelled.

In early 1964, while on tour in England, Ellington and Strayhorn performed four pieces of music for the first time ("Mynah", "Depk", "Agra", and "Amad"), which they called "Expressions of the Far East". By the time of the recording sessions in late 1966 Ellington and Strayhorn had added four more pieces. One, the latter's "Isfahan" was formerly known as "Elf", and had in fact been written months prior to the 1963 tour.

Legacy[edit]

Ellington very rarely performed the pieces that made up The Far East Suite. Cook and Morton have suggested that "Isfahan", which later became a jazz standard, "is arguably the most beautiful item in Ellington's and Strayhorn's entire output."[2] The album had a big impact on the Asian American jazz movement. In 1999, Anthony Brown recorded the entire suite with his Asian-American Orchestra. Unlike the 1967 album, Brown's version used Eastern instruments along with standard jazz instruments.

Reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
Allmusic3/5 stars[1]
Penguin Guide to Jazz4/4 stars[2]

Cook and Morton, writing for The Penguin Guide to Jazz, give the album a four-star rating (of a possible four), noting that "Ellington's ability to communicate points of contact and conflict between cultures, assimilating the blues to Eastern modes in tracks like 'Blue Pepper (Far East of the Blues),' never sounds unduly self-conscious. This remains a postwar peak."[2] Scott Yanow, writing for allmusic, calls this one of Ellington's "more memorable recordings,"[1] describing it as an example of "Ellington and Strayhorn in their late prime," and as such, "quite essential."[3]

Participating in Down Beat' s Blindfold Test shortly after the album's release, composer-arranger Clare Fischer was played track #7, "Agra." A longtime admirer and student of Ellington's work, Fischer had no trouble identifying the artist, awarding the track five stars, citing both "Duke's immensely creative writing" and his inexplicable ability to transcend "this same old tired instrumentation of trumpets, trombones and saxophones," while "perfect[ly] utilizing the men's specific sounds." In addition, Fischer praised Ellington's ability to "take an exotic-sounding idea and create something – you might call it sophisticated crudity. It gives both qualities that I look for – an earthy quality and the sophisticated quality."[4]

Track listing[edit]

(All compositions by Ellington & Strayhorn except 9. by Ellington.)

  1. "Tourist Point of View" – 5:09
  2. "Bluebird of Delhi (Mynah)" – 3:18
  3. "Isfahan" – 4:02
  4. "Depk" – 2:38
  5. "Mount Harissa" – 7:40
  6. "Blue Pepper (Far East of the Blues)" – 3:00
  7. "Agra" – 2:35
  8. "Amad" – 4:26
  9. "Ad Lib on Nippon" – 11:34
    1995 reissue bonus tracks
  10. "Tourist Point of View" (alternative take) – 4:58
  11. "Bluebird of Delhi (Mynah)" (alternative take) – 3:08
  12. "Isfahan" (alternative take) – 4:11
  13. "Amad" (alternative take) – 4:15

Personnel[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c The Far East Suite at AllMusic
  2. ^ a b c d Morton, Brian; Richard Cook (2010) [1992]. The Penguin Jazz Guide: The History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. The Penguin Guide to Jazz (10th ed.). New York: Penguin. pp. 437–438. ISBN 978-0-14-104831-4. 
  3. ^ Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra, Chris; Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (2002). "The Far East Suite (Special Mix)". All Music Guide to Jazz: The Definitive Guide to Jazz Music. San Francisco: Backbeat Books. p. 384. ISBN 0-87930-717-X. 
  4. ^ Feather, Leonard. "Clare Fischer – Blindfold Test". Down Beat. October 18, 1967. Retrieved 2013-04-14.