In the early 1970s, Don Ellis reshaped his big band, dropping the three acoustic basses and substituted one Fender bass. His guitarist added echoplex effects and wah-wah sensations, taking the group away from its straight-ahead big band sound and plunging it into the electronic decade. The band got connected to pop culture.
Ellis made a few changes from the standpoint of his trumpet leadership, too. His bright post bop technique, with its fluid syncopation, continued to lead with a dynamic presence. Ellis added a melodic fragrance, however, that introduced a different kind of air to his band's output. Lightly, like Herb Alpert, the trumpeter wove popular melodies into his performances. Maynard Ferguson and Buddy Rich were doing similar things with their big bands. Popular songs made great subject matter, and some of their work found its way into the movie studio on soundtracks.
Ellis' "Theme from The French Connection" combines his electronic generation retrofit sound with an intellectually challenging rhythmic arrangement that stems from the heart and soul of the composer's experimental work. His music has always been exciting.
However, the unique character of Ellis' earlier work is missing on this recently reissued recording from 1972. He and the bandmembers solo less often, preferring instead to let the music flow with popular melodies. Vocals are added to several selections. Electric guitar and electric bass take center stage much of the time. Keyboards surround the band with lush scenery. Still, some of Ellis' trademark features are still there. His trumpet rages powerfully on "Superstar" and his flugelhorn floats gently on "Alone Again (Naturally)."
For something entirely new and different, Ellis and guitarist Jay Graydon team up on "Goodbye to Love," each with wah-wah effects of his own. Each instrument approaches the effect differently, but they both achieve a deep blues feeling here and through several other tracks. The band's portrayal of "Lean on Me" gets a contemporary treatment, not unlike that of Quincy Jones and the theme from Sanford and Son. Ellis' shift to the new electronic decade made a dramatic statement in big band circles.
Hank Levy's "Chain Reaction" combines the old and the new. Ellis weaves a bright trumpet solo over a lush orchestral pattern that thunders with percussive excitement. Electronic whiz-bang tools jump out from all directions. Milcho Leviev adds a thrilling bebop piano solo with walking bass and drums that's complemented luxuriously by the string quartet. Meters change, tempos shift, moods flip-flop, and old meets new as Ellis summarizes his life's work in a suite designed to connect all the pieces. He's still in fine form, and he presents an exciting program designed to appeal to a broad audience. In all that he accomplished, Don Ellis was a superstar.
Personnel: Don Ellis: trumpet, flugelhorn, leader; Fred Selden, Gary Herbig, Vince Denham, Sam
Falzone, reeds; Glenn Stuart, Bruce MacKay, Paul Bogosian, Gil Rathel: trumpet, flugelhorn;
Sidney Muldrow: French horn; Glenn Ferris: trombone; Ken Sawhill: bass trombone; Doug
Bixby: tuba; Jay Graydon: guitar; Milcho Leviev: keyboards; Dave McDaniel: bass; Ralph
Humphrey: drums; Ron Dunn: drums, percussion; Lee Pastora: congas; Carmelo Garcia:
timbales, percussion; Tom Buffum, Earle Corry: electric violin; Denyse Buffum: electric
viola; Pat Kudzia: electric cello.