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Don Ellis: Essence

Jim Santella By

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Originally released in 1962 on Pacific Jazz as P-55, this reissue has been a long time coming. It reveals the kernel of Don Ellis that later blossomed into a broad-based big bandleader who straddled the fence between mainstream jazz and free jazz. His intellectually complex compositions have always knocked the socks off listeners and performers alike.

Ellis wrote "Ostinato" in 1957 for the Seventh Army Jazz II orchestra in Germany. Its opening 7/8 meter, followed by simultaneous 5/8 and 4/4 meters and an 11/8 piano accompaniment for Ellis' creative trumpet solo, foretell the rhythmic storms that would follow his career.

Ellis, who had appeared on Charles Mingus' Mingus Dynasty and paid his dues in the ensembles of Ray McKinley, Charlie Barnet, Claude Thornhill, Maynard Ferguson, and George Russell, gave this quartet the creative juice that it wanted. Paul Bley and Gary Peacock continued in the same spirit long after Ellis' death in 1978.

You can feel the animated trademark Ellis trumpet soloing on "Form" and "Ostinato," where he syncopates with bebop authority and revitalizes with a virtuoso's thrills. "Irony" strolls through free jazz territory with substantial experimentation on board. "Angel Eyes" moves lyrically with a lush texture and deeply felt emotional stirrings, while "Lover" closes the session with a blazing-fast show of dexterity from all four artists. These guys could do everything. Between recording dates for this album, they performed a spiritual piece in church.

Highly recommended and essential, Essence opens the doors of your imagination and introduces the listener to a whole new ball game.


Track Listing: Johnny Come Lately; Slow Space; Ostinato; Donkey; Form; Angel Eyes; Irony; Lover.

Personnel: Don Ellis: trumpet; Paul Bley: piano; Gary Peacock: acoustic bass; Gene Stone: drums (1-3,6-8); Nick Martinis: drums (3,5).

Title: Essence | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Mighty Quinn Productions

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CD/LP/Track Review
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CD/LP/Track Review
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