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Ellington Indigos, Now on Limited Edition HQ 180, 45 rpm LPs in both Black and Purple Vinyl Versions from Impex Records

06-22-2024 | By Tom Gibbs | Issue 133

Impex Records is well known for their extraordinary reissues of albums that are perhaps underappreciated, but nonetheless quintessential. Their latest is Duke Ellington's seminal 1958 session, Ellington Indigos, which Impex has just taken to the next level with a new 65th anniversary, 45 rpm two-LP edition. A relatively neglected jewel in Duke Ellington's catalog of masterworks, Ellington Indigos has been overshadowed by timeless classics such as Blues in Orbit, Masterpieces by Ellington, and Ellington at Newport. That said, Impex's new 65th anniversary edition of Ellington Indigos will in all likelihood offer the ne plus ultra in every conceivable aspect of the listening experience—at least, that's my take on all their 45 rpm titles so far! Playback at 45 rpm tends to imbue the music with greater levels of clarity and transparency, along with deeper, blacker backgrounds and an enhanced level of quiet, providing a compelling aural illusion of Duke Ellington and his orchestra. The kicker is that these remarkable recordings were made over sixty years ago!

For Ellington Indigos, the audiophile dream team at Impex Records has given us another album of exceptional sonic merit. Chris Bellman mastered the LP from a 1:1 flat transfer of the original analog master tapes at Bernie Grundman Mastering in Hollywood, using what Impex refers to as a "AAAA" all-analog process. Where all steps throughout the process are entirely in the analog domain; starting with tapes for the analog recording (A), which is mixed on all-analog equipment (AA), is then mastered on all-analog equipment (AAA), and then has lacquers that are cut directly from the resulting analog master (AAAA). Chris Bellman cut the new lacquers for the individually numbered, limited edition 45 rpm LPs, which were pressed at Record Technology Inc. using HQ-180 vinyl. And here's the fun part: not only is Ellington Indigos being reissued as a black vinyl 2-LP set that's strictly limited to 3000 copies, but an ultra-limited Indigo Purple vinyl set is also available! The 2-LP purple vinyl sets are in cooperation with and in honor of the 30th anniversary of the Los Angeles Orange County Audio Society, and are strictly limited to 1000 numbered copies, which are very likely to sell out quickly.

Ellington Indigos' heavy, tip-on gatefold outer jacket was produced by Stoughton Printing, and faithfully reproduces a near-perfect facsimile of the original outer jacket; it also features a beautiful high-gloss coating that protects the jacket and gives it a very authentic and vintage appearance. The gatefold jacket's dual album sleeves hold the pair of HQ-180 LPs; each LP is inserted into a scratch-free poly inner sleeve to further protect it from dust accumulation, scratching, and static buildup. A 16-page booklet is also inserted alongside one of the LPs; the booklet features a really cool strike-through varnish effect with high gloss images and graphic embellishments emerging from a satin varnish background. The booklet also includes a wealth of photos from the studio sessions, as well as a thoughtful, contemplative, and exceptionally informative essay from author and music historian Charles L. "Chuck" Granata. Impex's Robert Sliger again shows that there are no boundaries to the level of creativity in his art direction and design work with each successive album release. I can't say with certainty that Ellington Indigos has never been released in a gatefold jacket configuration, but Sliger's design for the gatefold and the accompanying booklet are models of perfection. When I worked in commercial print, I'd often troubleshoot electronic files from customers that employed exotic (and expensive!) strike-through varnish effects and the like, and often pondered as to whether they were actually necessary. Now, as the consumer, I look at the stylish elegance of Robert Sliger's designs and think, oh yes—they're absolutely necessary! 

Impex's Abey Fonn produced this reissue, with Henry Towns serving in the capacity as producer for Sony Music. Abey Fonn and Robert Bantz were the executive producers, and Bob Donnelly co-produced and oversaw quality control throughout the process. Impex Records continues to impress me with each successive LP release, each of which is a model of stunning sound quality and perfectionist packaging. You can order a copy of Ellington Indigos in either black or Purple Indigo vinyl from their partner Elusive Disc HERE, and both versions are also available from a variety of online retailers as well. 

Duke Ellington, Ellington Indigos. (2) Impex Records black 45 rpm LPs, $59.99 MSRP, (2) Indigo Purple LPs, $62.99.

The sessions for Ellington Indigos stretched across a period of six months or so in 1957, when Duke Ellington gathered his star-studded ensemble in Columbia Records' legendary 30th Street Studios in New York City. Under the direction of album producer Irving Townsend, brilliant Columbia engineer Fred Plaut captured these definitive performances on tape, preserving them in perpetuity for the enjoyment of jazzheads and music lovers alike. In his enlightening essay, Chuck Granata expounds on the origin of the album's title and its importance to the record buying public of the day in 1950s and 1960s America. Much of his rationale revolves around a pair of key words from many jazz releases of the period, cool and blue, which were intended to catch the eye of dime-store oriented shoppers—and how Ellington wanted to take this collection of standards and blues to an even deeper level of intensity. The tracks on his new album would be imbued with a hue bluer than blue—they'd be Indigos. 

Ellington Indigos features 12 tracks scattered across two LPs; eight of which are found on the original album release. Impex took advantage of the extra space offered by the 45 rpm format and added four mono bonus tracks from the original sessions. This new reissue is complemented in Impex's catalog by a 33 rpm, single LP version of the album that's been available for a while now, as well as an expanded 24 karat Gold CD version that also features the mono tracks (and more) that are found in this new 45 rpm reissue edition. While Ellington Indigos has been mostly in print in both LP and CD formats from the time of its release and since, original mono and stereo copies are nonexistent on Discogs, making this new release particularly noteworthy for its quality of sound and physical presentation.

The band for Ellington Indigos features Duke Ellington on piano (of course!); Paul Gonsalves on tenor sax; Johnny Hodges and Rick Henderson on alto sax; Jimmy Hamilton and Russell Procope alternating on clarinet and alto sax; Harry Carney on baritone sax; John Sanders, Quentin Jackson, and Britt Woodman on trombones; Cat Anderson, Shorty Baker, Willie Cook, and Clark Terry on trumpets; Ray Nance on trumpet and violin; Jimmy Woode on bass; and Sam Woodyard on drums. Ozzie Bailey provides the sumptuous vocal on "Autumn Leaves," and Jimmy Grissom sang the album's only other vocal on the bonus track "Love (My Heart, My Mind, My Everything)". Ellington's longtime collaborator and co-composer Billy Strayhorn had taken a leave of absence from the group around the time of this album's creation, possibly to pursue a solo career.

The song selection for Ellington Indigos features a mixture of Ellington originals and classic standards, all of which are instantly recognizable upon first hearing. Duke Ellington wrote all the arrangements, and many of his song intros vary significantly from the norm for these tunes. Along the same lines, and in no small part due to Ellington's more subdued approach to this record, many of the soloists perform in a more restrained manner than one might expect to hear on a typical Ellington album. The track list for Ellington Indigos is as follows:

Side 1

  1. Solitude
  2. Where or When
  3. Mood Indigo

Side 2

  1. Autumn Leaves
  2. Prelude To a Kiss
  3. Willow Weep for Me

Side 3

  1. Tenderly
  2. Dancing In the Dark
  3. Night and Day (mono)

Side 4

  1. All the Things You Are (mono)
  2. The Sky Fell Down (mono)
  3. Love (My Heart, My Mind, My Everything) (mono)

Listening Results

By clicking my name in the header above, you can see the individual components that occupy the two systems I use for evaluation of equipment and albums. Which, in this instance, was the all-analog system for my review of Ellington Indigos. That system now features a new pair of Vanguard Scout standmount compact monitor loudspeakers, which are in the same vein as classic British designs like the LS3/5A. They run in tandem with a Caldera 10 subwoofer, and the combination has taken my enjoyment of analog playback to another level of musicality. That setup also incorporates the excellent PS Audio Stellar phono preamp, and everything is powered by my PrimaLuna EVO 300 tube integrated amplifier. Which now features an upgraded matched quad of Sovtek 6550 power tubes and a matched pair of vintage NOS Brimar 12AU7 input tubes. Playback of the LPs was handled by my ProJect Classic EVO turntable that's mounted with an Ortofon Quintet Bronze MC cartridge. It's the perfect setup to enjoy the analog goodness of albums like Impex's Ellington Indigos!

To my great surprise, when the package containing my review copy of Ellington Indigos showed up, it not only contained the black vinyl version, but also the Indigo Purple vinyl version as well—woo hoo! I'm an unabashed fanboy when it comes to colored vinyl LPs, and in Impex's description of the Indigo Purple vinyl variant, they offered the following blurb on their website: "We're also debuting a super-quiet, super-limited-edition solid Indigo purple vinyl edition! Made in collaboration with our friends at the Los Angeles Orange County Audio Society in honor of their 30th Anniversary, we carefully selected vinyl chips with help from the vinyl gurus at RTI to craft one of the quietest color LPs ever made without dramatically changing the tonal excellence of the original recording!" RTI's 180 gram LPs were perfection incarnate—regardless of the color of the vinyl—and were razor-flat and perfectly centered, with beautifully glossy surfaces. I've had a lot of experience with colored vinyl pressings, and Impex's colored vinyl LPs are among the quietest and best-sounding available. 

I actually found very little difference sonically between the two vinyl variants; the Indigo Purple pressings were every bit the equal of the black vinyl LPs from a musical standpoint. After repeat listening's, I perhaps might give the black vinyl version the slightest edge for overall quiet of the album sides during playback, but it was by the slimmest of margins. Groove noise was minimal, and unlike many jazz recordings of this vintage, Ellington Indigos offered a very good stereo spread across the channels, with Duke's piano front and center, fully enveloped all around by the massive contingent of horns. The four mono tracks offered what I like to call a vintage "wide mono" sound, where the illusion of the players in front of you seemed to project in such a manner that it filled the soundstage. The transition from stereo to mono occurs after the second tune on side three, and it's barely noticeable; the stereo sound doesn't really "collapse" to mono as you might expect. Positive Feedback's own Steve Lefkowicz reached out to me about this; he has a mono original of the album, but has expressed interest in getting the stereo version, especially if the sound was less left/right in nature, as was typical of many stereo recordings of the late fifties. 

You Need Impex Records' Ellington Indigos in Your Collection!

I have a number of albums by Duke Ellington in my collection, but for some unknown reason, Ellington Indigos has never been among them until now. And after having listened to this album in regular rotation over the last week or so, I'm absolutely astonished at what I've been missing all this time! That's been made even more clear to me by the brilliance of Impex's new reissue and its glorious sound, regardless of the vinyl color variant that happens to be playing. I'm pumped to have an ultra-collectible Purple Indigo copy; it's beautiful to behold, and even more thrilling to hear! And that's what this outstanding reissue is really all about: actually listening to a superb album of exceptional and definitive musical performances, offered in their finest ever incarnation. Each of these tracks is a masterclass by Duke Ellington and his orchestra, and every soloist presents a veritable clinic of jazz interpretation and improvisation. The performances on this album are so perfectly realized that none of the Duke Ellington LPs that are in my collection can hold a candle to Ellington Indigos.

Take my advice and don't think about this one too long: go straight to Elusive Disc's website and pull the trigger, and quickly! With the strictly limited number of pressings available—especially so with the Indigo Purple colored vinyl variant—you don't want to wait too long. These performances are to die for, and the sound quality of both vinyl versions is beyond reproach! Thanks to Abey Fonn and everyone at Impex Records and Elusive Disc for their assistance, and for making this review possible. Ellington Indigos comes very highly recommended!

Impex Records


Elusive Disc


All photos courtesy of Impex Records, Elusive Disc, and the author.