The Merritt Record Society put out numerous rare recordings of Duke Ellington, drawn mostly from alternate takes and unissued material. This compilation LP primarily surveys compositions that were in the band book for only a brief period, with the exception of "A Tone Parallel to Harlem," an imaginative tone poem that he continued to play during concerts into the early '70s. The centerpiece of the album is the complete rendition of "The Liberian Suite." The ballad "I Like the Sunrise" is heard as both an instrumental first take, issued previously on V-Disc, and a second take which adds an Al Hibbler vocal dubbed at a later date. The gospel motif in "Dance No. 1" and Tyree Glenn's swinging vibes in "Dance No. 2" are among the highlights. The complete suite was recorded successfully during this 1947 session, although "Dance No. 3," "Dance No. 4," and "Dance No. 5" are identical to the versions issued by Columbia. The disjointed two-part "Controversial Suite" was premiered during a 1951 concert at the Metropolitan Opera House; the alternate takes of its two movements are not significantly different from the studio masters issued by Columbia. There is one mystery about it: There's a hot soprano sax solo in the Dixieland setting of "Before My Time," yet none of the members of the reed section in the band was readily known to play the instrument and Johnny Hodges had already departed by this time. Perhaps it is his replacement, Willie Smith, who was present on the date, but Merritt incorrectly lists Hilton Jefferson in his place. This recording marks its final appearance in Ellington's discography.
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