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THE ORIGINAL ELLINGTON SUITE (Pacific Jazz 7243 5 24567 2 7)

In my review of the Mosaic THE COMPLETE PACIFIC JAZZ RECORDINGS OF THE CHICO HAMILTON QUINTET elsewhere here, I mentioned that "The album of Ellington's music – some of which had been in the Quintet's book all along – is an oddity: It was originally intended that the new Quintet – with Eric Dolphy – would record the album, which led to the three tracks with Dolphy that are included in this collection. Then the decision was made to reassemble the original Quintet for the album – with Paul Horn added, making the Quintet an unacknowledged sextet!" That decision is usually credited to the producer and label owner, Richard Bock, of whom it is said that he did not fully appreciate Eric Dolphy’s work on the album.

Dolphy – who would die only six years after recording the original album on August 22, 1958 – was then unknown, a new Chico Hamilton discovery. Within a year, his work with Hamilton (and three albums with Hamilton’s Quintet, released in 1958, ’59 and ’60 by Warner Bros.) would lead to an even more attention-grabbing spot with Charles Mingus, and a brief career as a major jazz musician. But in 1958 even the relatively subdued Dolphy (not yet playing bass clarinet, not yet quite so personal in his musical vocabulary) did not agree with Bock’s ears. It was the same year that Ornette Coleman released his first album on Bock’s competitor, Contemporary Records – recorded nearby in Los Angeles.

For years it was assumed that the original album of Duke Ellington’s music, recorded by the Quintet with Dolphy, was lost; it was never issued. The three tracks in the Mosaic collection were drawn from edited tracks used in a Pacific Jazz sampler and on a radio-station sampler issued by Pacific Jazz. EMI and Mosaic’s jazz reissue man, Michael Cuscuna, spent much time and effort searching for the tapes to the album, but to date has not found them.

However, a fellow named John Cobley turned up a test pressing of the long-lost album in a record store in Brighton, England, in 1995. He found it in a "rather dirty album cover" from the LP that was actually released. We can be grateful that he eventually realized what he had and allowed it to be used for this new CD release.

Pacific Jazz/Capitol/EMI have issued the album rather slyly with the same cover – from the West Coast Artists Series, a striking abstraction by Sueo Serisawa, with only subtle modifications to the original design and an almost invisible "Previously unissued" hiding in the title strip under the Pacific Jazz logo. (Ironically, the original ELLINGTON SUITE was released on World Pacific Records, the successor to Pacific Jazz; the logo change is one of those modifications.) This could cause confusion if Capitol ever reissues as a CD the ELLINGTON SUITE which was originally released. But there are no signs that this is eminent or even likely. Thus far this newly released album is the only one of the Chico Hamilton Quintet albums from Pacific Jazz/World Pacific to be issued domestically on CD. None of the original albums has been.


The new CD uses nearly all of the same pieces and arrangements which turned up on the original LP – but with striking differences. The LP had ten tracks, and merged "Take the ‘A’ Train" with "Perdido" as a medley for its opening track. That medley is missing from the CD, and the remaining nine pieces are presented in a different order, with bridge passages between them, creating a genuine "suite." The first four tracks made up a semi-continuous Side One on the test pressing, and the other five tracks were treated similarly on Side Two. (In contrast, the LP version with the six-member "quintet" presented each piece except the opening two as a separate stand-alone track; there was no "suite.")

In his notes, Cuscuna states that "the arrangements in both versions are essentially the same. The greatest difference is tempo. Except for the three ballads and ‘I’m Just A Lucky So And So,’ everything on this first version is taken [at] a far more relaxed tempo."

In addition to Hamilton on drums and Dolphy on alto sax, flute and clarinet (which he rarely played thereafter), Nate Gershman plays cello, John Pisano plays guitar, and Hal Gaylor plays bass. They play tightly together, and Dolphy blends his alto sax with Gershman’s cello in "In A Sentimental Mood" like two voices singing interweaving harmonies and unisons. Dolphy plays a more Parker-inspired alto here than he would soon thereafter, but on the final track, "It Don’t Mean A Thing," he cuts loose more and unveils for the very first time on record his own idiosyncratic approach.

There is a strange tension in the music between Dolphy’s manic style and the relaxed tempos and Ellington melodies, but there is also passion in Dolphy’s alto solos, especially when he is evoking Johnny Hodges’ original performances with Ellington. Neither Buddy Collette nor Paul Horn ever exhibited as much passion with Hamilton, and it has to be said of his Quintet’s music that although it could be pretty or evocative and moody, it was too often bloodless and polite. Dolphy could perform like a bull in that china shop.

Despite being one track shorter than the LP version, this CD clocks in at 42:15, which is a respectable length for any album which was recorded for LP. There are a lot of reasons to get this album. The music (Ellington) is solid. The performance is both of musical and historical interest – this is Eric Dolphy’s first recording as a soloist – and has become available for the first time since it was recorded 42 years ago. The sound is remarkably clean (the test pressing was, fortunately, not much played), a testament to the quality of recording being done in the Fifties, but is in mono (a fact nowhere noted on the CD) despite the use of stereo recording by 1958. Perhaps a stereo-mix test pressing is still floating around out there in some overseas record shop. Or the original tapes may yet turn up. In the meantime, this CD is a real find.

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