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Don Ellis: Don Ellis at Fillmore

Jim Santella By

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What a memorable album. I guess I grew up on this one. That was back when my hair still had color, my knees both worked quite well, and I still had that "fresh out of college" attitude that took me off in many directions at once.

Don Ellis takes you off on a whirlwind ride, using electronic trumpet, complex meters, superb big band arrangements, and a cast of experienced sidemen who blow the walls down. Lest you've forgotten the details, it's all described in the original liner notes by Ellis, which are included in this CD reissue.

The band hustles with forceful Latin rhythms that surround each soloist with the kind of rhythmic swing that can appeal to almost anyone. Even the most diehard anti-jazz stalwart has to admit that this music reaches deep inside in just a few seconds.

The switch to electric guitar, electronic keyboard, and electric bass gave Ellis a contemporary image. His arrangements continued to emphasize a wide textural array of woodwind timbres, call and response brass section work, high-powered soloing, and percussive strokes that hammered a durable groove.

Ellis' "The Blues" features him growling and wah-wah-ing in the traditional sense. He goes much further, however, by vocalizing through the horn and painting a beautiful blues landscape with his lyrical phrases. A delicate celeste effect accompanies his open-horn solo, which follows naturally from what he's feeling. The guy knew his music inside and out. He closes this blues with some four-valve quarter-tone antics that added new meaning to the expression "blue note."

"Hey Jude" starts off the second CD of this two-disc set with Ellis on solo trumpet, sharing his ring modulator effects with the live audience. They were surely astonished by the new sounds. It's pretty weird. But then, science fiction movies have covered this territory for ages. After a few minutes of electronic fun, he launches the Beatles song with a call and response arrangement that splits time between electronics and pure big band sonority. Dissonance and humor rule the piece for over ten minutes.

The final number on the program is an encore. If you were in the audience that night in 1970, wouldn't you have hated to leave? What a thrill. As the band goes out at a blazing-fast tempo, Ellis gets the audience to participate in a syncopated hand-clap in seven. A hip audience deserved a hip arrangement. When Ellis takes his trumpet solo and the band goes into tacit mode, a handclap rhythm emerges to keep the up-tempo piece rolling with precision. Ellis digs deeper into his electronic bag, moves to mouthpiece improvisation, and then closes with a lush open-horn melody to bring the big band back in. Together, they roll onward, giving the audience a larger than life picture of the excitement that the bandleader's creative efforts could summon effortlessly.

Although I've always preferred Live at Monterey over this one, it's still one of those desert island albums that we like to daydream about in our spare time.

Track Listing: Final Analysis; Excursion II; The Magic Bus Ate My Doughnut; The Blues; Salvatore Sam; Rock Odyssey; Hey Jude; Antea; Old Man's Tear; Great Divide; Pussy Wiggle Stomp.

Personnel: Don Ellis: trumpet, drums, leader; Glenn Stuart, Stu Blumberg, John Rosenberg, Jack Coan: trumpet; Ernie Carlson, Glenn Ferris: trombone; Don Switzer: bass trombone; Doug Bixby: contrabass trombone, tuba; Fred Selden, Lonnie Shetter, Sam Falzone, John Klemmer; Jon Clarke: woodwinds; Jay Graydon: guitar; Tom Garvin: keyboards; Dennis Parker: bass; Ralph Humphrey: drums; Ron Dunn: drums, percussion; Lee Pastora: congas.

Title: Don Ellis at Fillmore | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Wounded Bird Records

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