[Originally published at my defunct blog Honey for the Bears on 3 May 2012]
In the 1990s the administrators of the Ellington stockpile licenced recordings to budget labels, but in the 2000s the distinguished jazz label Storyville took over.
Never Before Released Recordings (1965-1972) (released Music Masters, 1991). A couple of tracks from 1965, 1966, 1967, six from 1970 (including four remakes of movements from The New Orleans Suite, this time recorded in Italy), one from 1971, and one from 1972. This is a strong collection with some exclusive compositions. And finally we get studio versions of great mid-sixties numbers like ‘Swamp Goo’ and ‘That Old Circus Train Turnaround Blues’. Wild Bill Davis contributes the otherwise unknown ‘Naidni Remmus’ and ‘Sans Snyphelle’ . This album was reissued in 2010 on a Nimbus CD as From His Treasure Chest: 1965-1972.
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Cool Rock (1965, 1972; released Laserlight, 1992). This low-budget label release draws from two periods: a May 20, 1965 date in Chicago and some June 1972 recordings from NYC and Toronto. Five world premiere compositions.
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Togo Brava Suite (Feb-June, 1971; released Storyville, 2001). A very important release. In the sixties Ellington had been honoured with his face on a stamp of the Western African nation of Togo. He repaid the favour with an impressionistic seven movement suite which has close ties to the contemporaneous Goutelas and Afro-Eurasian Eclipse suites.
Until the release of this Storyville CD, the Togo Brava Suite existed only as a four-movement work on an October 1971 live album The London Concert (released United Artists, 1973; reissued by Blue Note in 1995 as Togo Brava Suite). Another movement, ‘Soso’, appeared on The Eastbourne Concert (recorded December 1973). Yet another, ‘Afrique’, appeared in a very different arrangement as part of The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse.
This Storyville album presents a full studio recording of the suite. The seven movements were recorded in the studio June 28-29, 1971. There’s an additional ten unreleased stockpile tracks from 1971 of slightly lesser interest, including several blues jams (eg. ‘Hick’) and not particularly impressive vocal performances by Nell Brookshire and Tony Watkins. ‘Checkered Hat’, Norris Turney’s tribute to his predecessor Johnny Hodges, is lovely (and also on The London Concert).
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The Jaywalker (1966-1967, released Storyville, 2004). All but two tracks come from 1967, a great and under-appreciated Ellington year. We have never-before-heard incidental music for a play called The Jaywalker, enjoyable Crime Jazz with an emphasis on percussion. The other compositions are either exclusive to this CD or tunes that never previously appeared in studio versions – some will be familiar to those who have The Yale Concert or various 1967 live records. Finally a studio version of both parts of ‘Little Purple Flower’ (part 2 is here called ‘Eggo’, known elsewhere as ‘On The Fringe of the Jungle’).
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The Piano Player (1961-1970; released Storyville, 2005). A great set of unreleased solo piano performances from a variety of sources. We have blues improvisations, works-in-progress including ‘Nagoya’ (ultimately part of ‘Ad Lib On Nippon’), a partial piano version of Ellington’s ballet The River, and a medley of ‘T.G.T.T.’ and ‘Little Purple Flower’. This is an essential piano album with a focus on Ellington the composer.
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New York New York (1970-72 ; released Storyville, 2008). The riches keep on coming. Thirteen previously unheard compositions and six unreleased remakes. Flautist Norris Tunney distinguishes various pieces, as does organist Wild Bill Davis. Another version of ‘Afrique’.