Duke Ellington recorded for Brunswick from 1926 to 1931, the period in which his great talent and great orchestra first flowered, whether the band was recording under his own name or such pseudonyms as the Washingtonians or the Jungle Band. The earliest recordings are highlighted by the presence of trumpeter Bubber Miley and trombonist "Tricky Sam" Nanton, whose brilliant work with plunger mutes for vocal effects did much to define the early sound–which, in turn, rapidly evolved and expanded with the additions of Harry Carney, Johnny Hodges, and Cootie Williams. While the band's repertoire included many blues and popular songs, its distinctive identity emerges from early renditions of such trademark pieces as "East St. Louis Toodle-O," "Black and Tan Fantasy," "The Mooche," and "Mood Indigo." By the end of the period covered in this set, Ellington's ambitious later suites–some of them CD-length–are portended in the elegant extended composition "Creole Rhapsody," his clearly superior contribution to the symphonic jazz movement.
The liner notes for Barry Guy's extended composition/improvisation Folio (a printer's term for a piece of paper folded in half to create four pages) refer extensively to Nikolai Evreinov's 1912 play The Theatre of the Soul, in which three aspects of the soul are introduced by a pretentious professor who claims the Self as Trinity: Rational, Emotional, and Eternal (or subconscious). Performed a scant five years before the Russian Revolution and simultaneously as Freud's big exposition of the Id, the Ego, and the Superego, the play is one of those moments where history seems to be suggesting bits and pieces of itself. What that all has to with Guy's piece is ponderous at best and known only to Guy. Even Brian Lynch's liner essay is speculative and academic.