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CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

John Ellis & Double Wide: Puppet Mischief

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Saxophonist John Ellis is slowly but surely distinguishing himself as a notably singular figure in contemporary jazz. Establishing a firm foundation for himself as a tenured accompanist to 7-string guitarist Charlie Hunter, the North Carolina native and current resident of Brooklyn embarked on his solo career in authoritative style with One Foot in the Swamp (Hyena, 2005), and then conceived the ingenious Double Wide ensemble, the unusual lineup of which may not have wholly defined itself on its debut, but crystallizes completely on this follow-up.

Puppet Mischief is, in line with its humorous title, an absolutely delightful album. Much of ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

John Ellis & Double-Wide: Puppet Mischief

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This second outing by John Ellis & Double Wide, the versatile saxophonist/bass clarinetist's extraordinary New Orleans-based band, one ups the “serious fun" mentality by inviting a pair of guests--harmonica master Gregoire Maret and multifaceted trombonist Alan Ferber--to augment the unusual quartet of sousaphonist Matt Perrine, drummer Jason Marsalis and newcomer Brian Coogan (replacing Gary Versace) on organ. The result is an even more flavorful gumbo that spices up the homegrown roots of the Crescent City with the savory sounds of the New York City jazz scene. Beginning with the brassy NOLA homage “Okra & Tomatoes" and concluding with funereal “This ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

John Ellis & Double-Wide: Puppet Mischief

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Brooklyn-based saxophonist John Ellis is a player who, whenever he puts his horn in his mouth, makes it seem like retro-modern is the only show in town. His style is part classic soul and funk, part modern jam band groove and part freewheeling improvisation. He has a particular affinity with New Orleans roots music and also references non-American folk and popular styles. He has a hipster sense of humor and an itch to experiment. It's a spellbinding combination and is mixed to perfection on Puppet Mischief, Ellis' second album with Double-Wide.

Ellis made his first album as leader ...

INTERVIEWS

John Ellis: Wide Angle

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Saxophonist John Ellis is a hybrid of New Orleans funk, New York modernity, Presbyterian sanctification and good ol' performing skills. He blends all those things together on his new record, Dance Like There's No Tomorrow (Hyena, 2008), which features saxophone, sousaphone, organ and drums.

Ellis celebrated the release of his new album with a two-night stand at the Jazz Standard in New York on May 13 and 14, 2008, participating in the following interview on May 14 just before taking the stage for the first set, where he spoke about getting the band together, the sousaphone, ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

John Ellis and Double-Wide: Dance Like There's No Tomorrow

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That's the low roar of a sousaphone--courtesy of New Orleans' Matt Perrine--you hear on the opening notes of “All Up in the Aisles," the first tune on Brooklyn-based saxophonist John Ellis' soulful Dance Like There's No Tomorrow. A North Carolina preacher's son who spent his formative musical years in the Crescent City before moving up north, Ellis remains a devotee of the New Orleans sound, although he and his band Double-Wide put a decidedly New York twist on it here. With Perrine holding down the bottom on the unwieldy but powerful instrument, Gary Versace providing some deep ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

John Ellis & Double-Wide: Dance Like There's No Tomorrow

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The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, which laid waste to much of New Orleans in August 2005, has inspired a clutch albums lauding the city and its people, and lambasting the colossal failure of the US government to pick up the pieces. Some of these tributes have been heartfelt; others have appeared opportunistic, going on cynical. Until now, the most eloquent and credible has probably been trumpeter Terence Blanchard's magnificent A Tale Of God's Will (Blue Note, 2007), subtitled “A Requiem For Katrina," and featuring Blanchard's road band alongside the Northwest Sinfonia.

Blanchard's opus has now been joined by ...

INTERVIEWS

John Ellis: Emerging

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Saxophonist John Ellis was known as one of the voices of the Charlie Hunter Trio, having toured with the eight-string guitarist in recent years. His searching sound can be heard on Hunter recordings like the recently released Copperopolis. Good years for Ellis, who was able to tour steadily and still work on building a solo career as one of the resourceful players on the scene.

But now appears to be the time for Ellis, 32, a country boy from a farm in Cameron, N.C., population about 200, to make a stronger statement for himself.

“That's come ...

DOWNLOAD REVIEWS

John Ellis Quartet: Live At Yoshi's - July 18, 2005

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Saxophonist John Ellis' new album By A Thread is “an early runner for one of the best albums of 2006,"according to one AAJ review. Thanks to his free, two-set live performance available free at his Web site, he's got his hat in the download category as well.

This 2.5 hour session is first-rate in personnel, performance and audio quality, easily deserving of album status if Ellis choose to go that route. The unprotected MP3s are easily obtained--no registrations, no fancy download schemes--by anyone with 175MB worth of bandwidth and hard drive space.

Just looking at the ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

John Ellis: By a Thread

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Over the past several years, tenor saxophonist John Ellis has developed a powerfully funky style. More recently, he has stretched out to bass clarinet and ocarina, releasing two well-received sessions as a leader and maintaining his integral part in guitarist Charlie Hunter's well-known trio. On By a Thread Ellis has brought together a quintet that delivers the funk, but also shines on multifaceted compositions which define a more mature sound. These beautifully melodic pieces serve as springboards to more adventurous climes.

Pianist Aaron Goldberg continues his association with Ellis. Newcomer guitarist Mike Moreno is able to adapt easily to the ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

John Ellis: By A Thread

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In contrast to the schizophrenic nature of John Ellis' previous effort, One Foot in the Swamp (Hyena Records, 2005), By A Thread is an altogether more coherent affair. The 2005 disc focused on consolidating musical experiences gained with artists as diverse as eight-string guitarist Charlie Hunter, pianist Robert Glasper and drummer Jason Marsalis, shifting from a New Orleans swagger to an urban New York City vibe. Despite being consistently engaging, it felt somehow divisive.

That's not to say there isn't a lot of gear-shifting on By A Thread. But by sticking with a consistent lineup, rather than augmenting it with ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

John Ellis: One Foot in the Swamp

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Reedman John Ellis has distinguished himself in recent years as a sideman and collaborator in the renowned Charlie Hunter Trio. One Foot in the Swamp, released on the New York indie jazz label Hyena, marks his third as bandleader--though his two previous albums received only limited distribution, meaning that this may seem like a remarkably confident debut to some, as it did me. The album thrives on the vibrant, often surprising mix of backward-looking, forward-thinking songwriting that listeners might have presaged from Ellis' work with Hunter, and perhaps even expected based on his earlier sessions as leader.

Opening numbers are ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

John Ellis: One Foot in the Swamp

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If, as the title of his new album suggests, saxophonist John Ellis has one foot in the swamp--meaning the Southern-fried funk of New Orleans, where he spent his formative musical years and recorded his new disc--his other foot is firmly planted in the more adventurous modern jazz scene of his current base here in New York. It's that mix of North and South, Big Easy and Big Apple, funk and futuristic sounds that makes Ellis one of the more exciting young artists to emerge in recent years. A key member of guitar whiz Charlie Hunter's group, Ellis is ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

John Ellis: One Foot in the Swamp

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Coming from a member of eight-string guitarist Charlie Hunter's various bands for the past few years, reedman John Ellis' first release to receive national exposure might be something you'd expect to be filled with infectious grooves and catchy melodies. And, to be sure, One Foot in the Swamp has its share of both. But as much as tunes like “Happy have a joyful New Orleans swagger and singable theme, Ellis--truly a cosmopolitan player who has spent as much time in New York and the Far East as he has in the Deep South--is as rooted in a kind of urban ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

John Ellis: One Foot In the Swamp

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"Calmette Shawarma" (track 10 on this release) is one of those rare jazz compositions that is beautifully tethered to nothing and makes perfect sense when you hear it. It begins with a “standard" jazz head that is complex in the way Jazz Messengers heads were in the '50s and '60s when Wayne Shorter was redefining the meaning of hard bop. This inspired ensemble playing demonstrates the depth of trumpeter Nicholas Payton's vision. The piece begins in an orderly enough fashion and then traces the history of jazz from Miles Davis' “Walkin'" through “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down." This track is ...



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