Dave Ellis: State of Mind (2003)
A severe gap exists between technical facility and profound expression. The jazz world has become flooded with technically adept performers, and whether they’ve come up from within the rigorous university system or the art institutes, they all display a studied command of their instruments, harmony, sight-reading, and composition. They’ve all been tested, certified, and approved; they’re all fully saturated with the historical development of their instruments. Unfortunately, the majority fails to translate this scholastic excellence into the kind of personally explorative and challenging music that defines the heart of artistic expression.
Though more adept than some, Dave Ellis’s debut release, State of Mind provides little more than another example of the phenomena just described. Every element of State of Mind has been precisely constructed, executed, and produced. The backing provided by Mulgrew Miller (piano), Peter Washington and Christian McBride (bass), Carl Allen and Lewis Nash (drums), plus alto guest Vincent Herring, only confirms the trend. All excellent, well-proved musicians, their collective voice on this outing reveals tremendous ability, but a definitive lack of depth.
Pieces like Coltrane’s “Grand Central” and Horace Silver’s much covered “Peace” prove the adage that it’s not always what you say, but how you say it. Delving into such classic and moving compositions, Ellis fails to get inside the tunes, producing renditions both redundantly chaste and overly smoothed. Despite de rigor squawks, honks, squeals, breathy ballad readings, and some admittedly funky piano by Mulgrew, the album is frustratingly safe.
This is an album that sounds like manicured nails and the glint of candle light on the corner of a white wine glass. It will definitely go well with the chicken. Or the fish. Or the fillet mignon. And the sincerity clearly brimming beneath Ellis’s fingers reminds one of the comforts evoked by sweater-vests. To fulfill what his talent demands Ellis still has a lot of growing to do.
Track Listing: 1. Not That You asked 2. Barbados 3. Soul-Leo 4. Something to Live For 5. Sunshowers 6. Grand Central 7. Don't Blame Me 8. Isabella Blue 9. Peace 10. Summertime
Personnel: Dave Ellis: Tenor Saxophone; Mulgrew Miller: Piano; Peter Washington: Bass; Carl Allen: Drums; Vincent Herring: Alto Saxophone; Christian McBride: Bass; Lewis Nash: Bass.