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The Heads and Tails Quartet: Both Ends Now

Dan McClenaghan By

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The Heads and Tails Quartet: Both Ends Now After a disastrous foray into vocal music, Ellis Leahy, multiple horn man extraordinaire, flows back into the mainstream of jazz with this vibrant live CD. Both Ends Now starts out steamin' with the leader crying out, "Blow man, blow," on the opening number, then delivering a searing alto saxophone solo in the middle of the classic Cole Porter tune "Too Darned Hot." And though it may sound as if he's encouraging one of his Heads and Tails Quartet band mates to cut loose, he's actually exhorting himself. Leahy is one of those rare musical artists who "doubles" on brass and reeds, a territory explored by the late swing master Benny Carter, free jazz man Ornette Coleman, and precious few other jazz musicians.

And blow he does! Leahy's flugelhorn gives off even more heat than his alto, as he burns off a fluttering Dizzy Gillespie riff before rejoining himself on alto for some red-hot harmony. That's right, harmony. The inimitable Ellis Leahy is the only jazz man, past or present, who plays his brass and reed axes simultaneously, the saxophone with his mouth, the flugelhorn with his...let us call it his southern oriface.

The eloquent liner notes—penned by the two-ended musician's manager/wife, Ruth—explain in loving detail the evolution of Leahy's artistry. A deep abiding love of bean dip led to his bottom end beginnings with the trumpet, followed by a switch to flugelhorn with it's smaller mouthpiece proving more suitable to the gluteus maximus/anal embouchure. He initially wore his pants backwards to afford an easy access for his instrument via his repositioned fly, with an eventual special tailoring providing barn doors front and back.

Technical details aside, Both Ends Now captures the quartet in a cooking live performance at the South Bar Stage in the Paloma Resort and Casino in northeast San Diego County, sizzling through versions of Big Joe DeNio's bawdy "Big Bottom Blues," followed by a Leahy original, "Don't Drain That Spit Valve," a surprisingly bop-ish take on Bob Dylan's "Idiot Wind," along with American Songbook classics "Too Close for Comfort" and "One For My Baby."

Both Ends Now has a feeling of spontaneous good times, with bassist Clete Johnson crying out, "Oh God, point that horn away from me, brother!" in the middle of one of Leahy's more spirited solos on "Rearin' Back," followed by pianist Bob Urp's response: "But for cryin' out loud don't aim it this way, man!"

The Leahy-led quartet is on the verge of taking a step up in terms of profile, with planned twelve city west coast tour this summer, co-sponsored by Preparation H and Carmelita's Refried Beans.

And what can you say, but "Blow, man, blow!"

Track Listing: Idiot Wind; Too Darned Hot; Rearin' Back; I'm Walking Behind You; Too Close For Comfort; One For My Baby; A Foggy Night; Big Bottom Blues; Don't Drain That Spit Valve.

Personnel: Ellis Leahy: alto saxophone, flugelhorn; Clete Johnson: bass; Chuck Malone: drums; Bob Urp: piano

Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Loma Alta Records | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream

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