Liberty Ellman: Last Desert

Jerome Wilson By

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Liberty Ellman: Last Desert
Guitarist Liberty Ellman has been doing valuable work in recent years as a sideman for musicians such as Henry Threadgill, Stephan Crump and Myra Melford. Once in a while he also puts out his own music as a leader.

Inspired by a marathon race that takes place in Antarctica, the music on this disc is a constantly moving bundle of sounds with some resemblance to Threadgill's recent work in its use of tuba and its overall jangling ensemble feel. However Ellman's music is more measured in its pacing with his guitar serving as slithery connective tissue between the piping of the horns and the lively patter of the bass and drums. "Last Desert I" starts with ponderous trudging by the horn players, trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, alto saxophonist Steve Lehman and tuba player Jose Davila as Ellman scrapes alongside. Then the guitar's rattling leads into a faster tempo where it bends and swoops over Stephan Crump's and Damion Reid's jogging rhythm. "Portals" goes along a similar progression but with a contorted bass solo by Crump linking the slow and fast passages. "Last Desert II" and "The Dip" are more meditative pieces. The band moves together in slow motion on these with the horns and guitar climbing slowly in separate paths. "Desert II" is particularly notable for Crump's and Reid's wobbly but determined beat and Lehman's beautifully cranky solo over springy guitar chords.

On "Doppler" and "Rubber Flowers" the band maintains a quicker tempo throughout. "Doppler" carves out stabbing, angular quasi-funk that resembles Ornette Coleman's Prime Time band, particularity in Lehman's fizzing alto lines, Ellman's bubbling guitar and Reid's slapdash drumming. "Doppler" sounds like the music of a broken carousel, going around in a crooked circular motion as the alto, trumpet and guitar continually exchange tipsy, singing solos.

Everyone in this band excels with Ellman's liquid runs, Davila's buzzing low notes and Lehman's hoarse shouts continually standing out. As a whole the group puts out combinations of lyricism, acrobatics and off center rhythms that fit together perfectly and function like a expertly running machine. There are a lot of fascinating and individual new sounds abundant in jazz today and the relentless clockwork turns of Liberty Ellman's music are as impressive as anything else out there.

Track Listing

The Sip; Last Desert I; Last Desert II; Rubber Flowers; Portals; Doppler; Liquid.


Liberty Ellman: guitar; Steve Lehman: saxophone, alto; Jonathan Finlayson: trumpet; Jose Davila: trombone, bass; Stephan Crump: bass; Damion Reid: drums.

Album information

Title: Last Desert | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Pi Recordings

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