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Trumpeter Doug Ellington's new release conveys some interesting ideas with generally solid musicianship. As they are described in the liner notes, some of Ellington's notions are overly clever and border on pretentious, but all in all this is a very enjoyable effort.
The opening "Xenophobia begins with a vibrant bass vamp that soon supports a bustling theme. Ellington and alto saxophonist Chazz Alley blow two separate layers, a most effective structure. At times Alley sounds remarkably like late-period Bud Shank during his solo turns, rough-edged and blurring the borders of rhythm and tempo. Ellington takes his trumpet solo at a cautious pace. Yuma Sung follows the trumpet's denouement with a beautifully executed piano solo, typifying the taut interactions among these musicians.
"Song A is seriously funky for a tune Ellington describes as "a reflection of the inherent tautologies in social life which seem to serve needs and wants. Maybe that's university-speak for "give the drummer some. (Unfortunately, something the drummer was not given was credit in the booklet.) The next track, "Anti-Trust, begins with flowing piano and bowed bass, seguing into an attractive trumpet-and-alto melody. Then it dissolves into a politically conscious ball-drop, marred by Luisa Lualhati's shaky, tonally challenged singing. Whatever your feelings on the lyrics, the downright bad vocals kill off an otherwise well-crafted tune. Luckily this is the only vocal, and the instrumentalists are uniformly strong and entertaining.
The initial passage of "Looking Forward to Summer is jaunty enough to be from Brubeck or Guaraldi. It spreads out into a slow, gorgeous theme accentuated by Yuma Sung's piano and uncredited organ. "Raga, Raspberry, Shizzol is a rather unsuccessful attempt at fusing Indian musical concepts with jazz. If Ornette Coleman designed car alarms, they might resemble part of this piece; Alley's alto reinforces the Coleman vibe. As for the closing title track, it's best to ignore the gross over-philosophizing of the liner notes and dive deeply into the tune's powerful 3/4 drive. It's an excellent construction, like most of the other compositions. Ellington shows serious promise as a composer and trumpeter.
However, the design and layout are some of the worst in recent memory. The tray card is done in a goofy alternating contrast that makes the titles difficult to read, and most track times are provided in black-on-black text. None of this is helpful. Neither is the personnel listing. Besides the aforementioned omission of the drummer, Chris Amberger is listed as playing "E/U, which is most likely electric upright bass. Luckily the cruddy graphics and layout don't mirror the well-done musical content.
(Quick note for the curious: yes, he's Duke's grand-nephew...)
Track Listing: Xenophobia; Song A; Anti-Trust; Looking Forward To Summer/Jeanne Louise; Billyís Dead; Raga, Raspberry, Shizzol; POP; Life.
Personnel: Doug Ellington: trumpet; Chazz Alley: alto sax; Yuma Sung (1,2,4,8), John Carlson (5,7):
piano; Sani Sasmita: electric bass (2,4,8); Chris Amberger: electric upright bass (1,5,7); Dave
Smith: acoustic bass (3,6); Eric Pan: electric piano (3); Luisa Lualhati: vocals (3); Steve Kaku:
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.