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Chico Hamilton with Eric Dolphy: The Original Ellington Suite

In August 1958, a Chico Hamilton quintet group with Eric Dolphy on alto sax, flute and clarinet, recorded a group of Duke Ellington compositions for Pacific, which for some reason did not get issued together on an album, although three were edited and released on anthologies. During January 1959, another Hamilton group, containing Buddy Collette, Paul Horn, Jim Hall, Carson Smith and Fred Katz rerecorded the selections and they were issued as The Ellington Suite on an LP. The earlier date with Dolphy seemed to be lost.

But in 1995 John Cobley, a resident of Victoria, B.C., took a trip back to his native Brighton, England, where he ran across a test pressing of the Hamilton recordings with Dolphy. It was brought to the attention of Capitol Records officials and here it is, The Original Ellington Suite.

The principal importance of the disc is Dolphy’s appearance. Aside from some work he did on Roy Porter big band selections cut in 1949, this is his initial appearance on record. In 1949, Charlie Parker had influenced Dolphy’s alto playing and Sonny Criss’, who’d developed his own variant of Parker’s style, and improvised in a very hard-swinging, legato manner. By 1958, Dolphy’s work, though having something in common with Cannonball Adderley’s, had almost reached the degree of great originality that he displayed one to two years later, when he began receiving critical accolades.

Dolphy’s improvising is excellent but, except on “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” restrained, which is not surprising, since Hamilton had a chamber-jazz group. He performs very thoughtfully, even when double-timing, and that’s not a bad thing, because when he opened up he had a tendency to repeat himself frequently, running his pet ideas into the ground. Interestingly, Criss was also a repetitious player in the early part of his career. Dolphy can be heard soloing very repetitively on his “Live at the Five Spot” albums, but these nevertheless seem to be among the favorites of his fans and critics.

Hey, folks, Dolphy was a great musician, but he had this serious fault; he often played the same licks over and over. Didn’t you ever notice that?

Dolphy doesn’t get a chance to stretch out on clarinet, but displays a pretty, cultivated tone on the instrument. If he’d played it more often maybe it wouldn’t have taken so long to revive it in a jazz context. Guitarist John Pisano takes some nice, clean Charlie Christian-influenced solos. But overall, the arrangements here are by and large pallid.

Originally Published