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on 4 September 2012
Latin American Suite is a proper Ellington album. Each of the compositions is credited to The Duke (Mercer Ellington gets a co-writing credit for Chico Cuadradino), and every piece makes its first appearance here. The suite is intended as an expression of appreciation for the warm welcome received by Ellington and His Orchestra on their first tour of South America, lasting most of the month of September 1968, and taking in Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Mexico.

In his liner notes, Stanley Dance explains that much of the music was written while the tour was in progress. Whether any of the seven songs had been rattling around inside Ellington's head prior to setting off, I've no idea. If not, the fact that the orchestra premièred four parts of the suite during the tour is a remarkable testament to Duke's appetite for hard work and speed of thought. This event is captured in Duke Ellington - Live In Mexico as 'The Mexican Suite', comprising 'Chico Cuadradino', 'Latin American Sunshine', 'The Sleeping Lady And The Giant Who Watches Over Her' and 'Oclupaca'. 'Live In Mexico' was recorded on 28th September. The recording quality is not the best, but it is adequate.

Latin American Suite adds 'Eque', 'Brasilliance' and 'Tina' to the above. All of the songs were recorded on the same day, 5th November, 1968, with the exception of 'Tina', which was recorded in January 1970.

There is an obvious enthusiasm and vibrancy about this music, and there are plenty of good ideas and enjoyable moments. Duke is on good form at the piano; his solo introduction to 'The Sleeping Lady And The Giant Who Watches Over Her' is very affecting. Harry Carney reminds us of his worth with his brilliant counter-melodies in 'Latin American Sunshine'.

'Latin American Suite' has a lot going for it, and yet I can't help thinking of it as an opportunity missed. At what point does speed become haste? 'Latin American Sunshine' is symptomatic of a problem that affects the whole project. It is my favourite part of the suite, but I find my interest wavering at points during its 7 minute duration. More time needed to be spent on fine-tuning the composition and its arrangement. The lack of a confidante at Duke's side to act as a sounding board for ideas - a role fulfilled previously by Billy Strayhorn - is keenly felt.

This cutting of corners is exacerbated by Duke's disastrous choice of drummer. In an orchestra of this renown Rufus Jones is simply not good enough, and Ellington must take the blame for not setting his sights higher. In song after song Jones ploughs on like a robot, seemingly oblivious to the sounds around him. Consequently, this music lacks ebb and flow. This is no small matter. Whatever the listener thinks about the artistic merits of 'Latin American Suite', one thing is incontestable: it does not swing, and The Duke himself has put on record what he thinks about music that lacks that particular quality.
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on 16 February 2003
This CD was recorded in 1968-70, and includes some of the best work of Ellington's late period. The charts are unusual in being mostly composed ensemble work, with very few solos. What solos there are, are mainly from the Duke himself.
The bad points are that the playing time is very short (37 minutes) and there is no list of personnel. One track uses two bass players, but they are not named.
Definitely recommended for the excellent musical content. Good sound.
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