Canadian born bassist and Renaissance man, Lisle Ellis opens a new chapter in his development with Sucker Punch Requiem. A tribute to the revered painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, Ellis' all-star septet offers a diverse program of musical ideas that mirrors Basquiat's idiosyncratic vision.
With ties across Canada, New York City and the Bay Area, Ellis has been a highly valued collaborator for almost three decades. A brief hiatus from performing in the late 1990s found him channeling his creative energies into painting and electronic composition. After spending the majority of his professional career in California, Ellis relocated to New York City in 2005, when he began composing a requiem for Basquiat as a "gesture of respect and gratitude."
Using the Roman Catholic Church's six part mass for the dead as a guide, Ellis staggers recurrent motifs and concise transitory themes with multi-sectional compositions. Alternating between melancholy impressionism and bittersweet euphony, the suite encompasses a range of emotions. By shifting instrumental emphasis between brief electronic sketches and heavily arranged acoustic tunes, he exposes layers beneath the surface of the overall work.
Pianist Mike Wofford and flutist Holly Hoffman provide a neo-classical patina, lending gravitas and austerity to Ellis' contemplative chamber pieces. They add genteel lyricism to lilting swingers like "Suicide Study," featuring a rare bass solo from the magnanimous leader. Drummer Susie Ibarra supplies subtle shadings and an undulating pulse, while Pamela Z injects occasional samples and processed vocals on electronic fanfares like "Summonings" and "Incantation and Ascent."
Legends of the Loft Jazz era, saxophonist Oliver Lake and trombonist George Lewis supply the album's most heated exchanges. The episodic, suite-like "For Blues and Other Spells" and dramatically expansive "Untitled (Life Stilled)," find the duo embroiled in turbulent discourse, their interplay fearsome and uncompromising.
A diverse stylist, Lake pairs well with Hoffman, offering plaintive keening and thorny spirals on the boppish "Las Pulgas" in solidarity with her pithy interjections. With his plangent alto, Lake's presence transforms the electronic "Incantation and Ascent" into an acoustic lament, his incisive commentary on the turbulent "Bas Relief" providing drive and focus.
Boasting fluid ensemble interplay, dramatic stylistic shifts and rich harmonic writing, Sucker Punch Requiem blends forward thinking experimentation with old school craft, resulting in one of Ellis' most accessible and rewarding albums.
Personnel: Lisle Ellis: bass, electronics, sound design; Pamela Z: voice and electronics; Holly Hoffmann: flutes; Oliver Lake: alto and soprano saxophone; George Lewis: trombone; Mike Wofford: piano; Susie Ibarra: drums and percussion.