– Ellington’s “Liberian Suite”

Images of the first Philips pressing of Duke Ellington’s “Liberian Suite” have been added to the page for this title, which was already there, showing a later pressing. Now both can be seen: click on the image below.

Here’s a review for the “Liberian Suite” from www.jazzmusicarchives.com:

Duke Ellington was such a prolific composer and performer that there are bound to be some overlooked gems in his vast recorded arsenal, and such is the case with “The Liberian Suite”, recorded in late 1947 and released in 1949. This suite was commissioned by the government of Liberia, who were celebrating the 100 year anniversary of their founding by freed slaves from the US. The original “Liberian Suite” was initially released by itself on a 10″ LP. Later it was teamed with “A Tone Parallel to Harlem” for release on a 12” LP. After that, “Liberian Suite” was not re-issued often until recently when Columbia included it on their CD re-issue of “Ellington Uptown”.

“Liberian Suite” is not one of Ellington’s most ambitious works, especially compared to the “Black Brown and Beige Suite” that preceded it, and “A Tone Parallel to Harlem” that will follow in a few years. Instead, the ideas on “Liberian” are more direct and easier to absorb, creating a work that is more cohesive and easier to follow than some of Ellington’s more sprawling musical architectures. That’s what is special about this suite, it really works and it really connects with the listener. As is usual with all of Ellington’s ‘suites’, “Liberian” does not follow classical forms or imitate the classical composer’s tendency toward thematic development and recapitulation, instead, this piece wanders from one idea to the next, but with a creative flow that makes total sense and keeps the listener thoroughly engaged. Its hard to think of another composer who can work with such constant forward motion and still come up with something this logical and coherent.

As is usual, Duke’s band is outstanding on here. Ellington was smart enough to pay his men better than most, insuring that he had a very cohesive unit made up of musicians who were often with him for several decades. There are many highlights on here, Al Hibbler’s understated and thoughtful vocal delivery on the semi-mystical “I Like the Sunrise”, and Tyree Glenn’s exotic vibraphone solo on “Dance Number 2” are both worth mentioning. Another top contribution is Sonny Greer’s imaginative tympani playing that drives the band with a mix of African and western symphonic musicality. There are so many more inspired musicians and moments on here that is pointless to list them all, but to sum up, this music was ahead of its time then, and will continue to be so for many years to come. No one else in the world sounds like this. Its also worth mentioning that no doubt Ellington’s very important co-contributor, Billy Strayhorn, had much to do with the writing and arranging on here.