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John Ellis & Double-Wide: Puppet Mischief (2010)

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John Ellis & Double-Wide: Puppet Mischief How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

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
Gregoire Maret
Gregoire Maret
b.1975
harmonica
and multifaceted trombonist Alan Ferber
Alan Ferber
Alan Ferber

trombone
—to augment the unusual quartet of sousaphonist Matt Perrine, drummer Jason Marsalis
Jason Marsalis
Jason Marsalis
b.1977
drums
and newcomer Brian Coogan (replacing Gary Versace
Gary Versace
Gary Versace

organ, Hammond B3
) 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 Too Shall Pass," the date serves up a mixed menu of Americana that could have only been concocted in the country's original melting pot.

Ellis is a selfless front man, spotlighting the substantial skills of his sidemen and guests as soloists, almost to the point of subjugating his own instrumental voice to a secondary role—a tactic that makes the gutsy sound of his horn that much more compelling when it does come to the fore. Yet it is the reedman's considerable capabilities as a composer (at times recalling the work of Carla Bley
Carla Bley
Carla Bley
b.1938
piano
and Henry Threadgill
Henry Threadgill
Henry Threadgill
b.1944
reeds
, as well as Kurt Weill and Charles Ives) that are most impressive. His ability to paint vibrant musical pictures with the seemingly limited tonal palette of the band's odd instrumentation is simply astonishing.

Perrine is tireless in providing the pulsating foundation at the heart of the music and Marsalis is at his rhythmical best, playing with a freewheeling confidence that contributes greatly to the exuberance of pieces like the second-lining "Fauxfessor" and Spanish-tinged "Héroes de Acción." Maret is nothing short of remarkable in the emotional breadth he elicits from his diminutive instrument, brooding deeply on "Carousel" and "Chorale" and swinging bluesy (as do Coogan and Ferber) on the title track and elsewhere. In the spirit of New Orleans, this album is a truly cooperative endeavor, one that effectively comes to life due to the genius of puppet master Ellis.

Track Listing: Okra & Tomatoes; Fauxfessor; Dewey Dah; Puppet Mischief; Carousel; Dubinland Carnival; Chorale; Héroes De Acción; This Too Shall Pass.

Personnel: John Ellis: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Matt Perrine: sousaphone; Brian Coogan: organ; Jason Marsalis: drums; Alan Ferber: trombone; Gregoire Maret: harmonica.

Record Label: ObliqSound

Style: Dixieland/New Orleans/Swing


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