Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn combined old and new compositions to create the album Afro-Bossa, a suite consisting of a dozen pieces that was never performed in its entirety in concert, though several of the works remained in the band's repertoire. The title cut is a new work, though the "Bossa" does not refer to Brazilian music; instead, it is a mix of African and Latin influences that slowly builds with insistent percussion to a blazing finale of brass and reeds. "Purple Gazelle" (which was also recorded as "Angelica" in Ellington's small group session with John Coltrane, was described by the pianist as a "ragtime cha-cha." Cootie Williams (on muted trumpet), Ray Nance, Paul Gonsalves, and the composer are all featured soloists. Ellington returns to the jungle sound with the exotic "Moonbow," showcasing a trio of dissonant clarinets and Nance's effective plunger mute work on trumpet, along with the matchless altoist Johnny Hodges. Strayhorn's "Tigress" puts the spotlight on Gonsalves, Williams, and clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton in an infectious Latin setting. "Pyramid" dates from 1938, written by Ellington with Juan Tizol, but it is trombonist Lawrence Brown who takes over Tizol's role, along with contributions by baritonist Harry Carney and Williams. This is easily one of Duke Ellington's essential studio recordings of the 1960s, though it isn't as widely recognized as it ought to be.
AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden