This being the 100th anniversary of the birth of Duke Ellington, it is only fitting that a plethora of recordings celebrating his works are now beginning to appear. This is a gold mine for Ellington lovers who want to explore some of Ellington's lesser known works. The Far East Suite is one of those compositions. Anthony Brown as reworked this epic in such a way that hearing it played by the Asian American Orchestra is both a treat an an ear opener.
Brown uses traditional instruments (trumpets, trombones etc...), alongside Chinese instruments such as the Chinese Mouth Organ, various Chines percussion, and flutes. The result is a tapestry of sound that captivates the listener's imagination in ways I'm sure Duke and Billy Strayhorn would be proud of. The opening piece, "Tourist Point of View" begins with flautist Qi Chao Liu improvising on bird calls used in the traditional Chinese and Japanese culture. His flute evokes a haunting yet welcoming intro to the suite. Bluebird of Delhi again features Qi along with effective percussion in a funeral type romp before swinging into the main theme. Jim Norton plays some wonderful clarinet alongside Qi. In the spirit of Ellington, the piece builds to an almost fever pitch before returning to the opening these with Norton's careful delicate clarinet work. "Isfahan" is the most well known piece of the suite. A slow shuffling tempo introduces the piece with Melecio Magdaluyo featured on Alto sax.
Suffice it to say that the rest of the Suite offers some beautiful and satisfying surprises for the listener. This is a monumental work played elegantly with Style and respect to the composers. One of the top Jazz recordings of 1999, and highly recommended to anyone who would like to hear an excellent orchestra play an Ellington classic. Looking forward to other recordings in the near future.
Anthony Brown has done a fantastic job of retaining Ellington's mood and intentions, as well as integrating them into his orchestra with superb results. Pick up a copy and bask in this fascinating work.