Since returning home to Ottawa after spending much of his adult life as an associate music professor at Concordia University in Montréal, Roddy Ellias may have retired but he's far from slowing down. Retirement's just a word, but for this extraordinary guitarist it's clearly been a liberating one; based on Monday's Dream
, his first recording since returning to Ottawa, it's suiting him very, very well, indeed.
While he still plays a hollow body electric guitar on occasion, Ellias' main axe has been, for many years, a nylon-string classical guitarsuited, as it is, for his interest in contemporary new music, jazz and classical repertoire. If there are hints of Ralph Towner
in Ellias' often abstruse but nevertheless compelling compositions, it's because the two share a commonality: the evolution of harmonic languages that make them unmistakable from the first notes of a tune, whether it's a standard like Antonio Carlos Jobim
's "How Insensitive," performed in his occasionally convening duo
with Jersey-based guitarist Vic Juris
at the 2013 GuitarNow! workshop in Ottawa last spring, or on Monday's Dream
's ten originals that range from relatively new compositions like the darkly lyrical title track, which features an appropriately melody-centric solo from bassist Adrian Vedady
, to "Somewhere Under the Rainbow," an oblique a cappella
solo piece originally played in duo with pianist Dave Hildinger, an also retired but influential educator and inspiration on the Ottawa scene.
Where comparisons to Towner fall apart is in Monday's Dream
's sound, though that's not to suggest it's a problemonly that it's very different from Towner's more reverb-heavy sound on his many recordings for ECM Records. Here, with every single note, every single percussive texture crystal clear and the overall delicacy of Ellias' writingand the playing of his Montreal-based trio that also includes drummer Thom Gossage
the sound is very dry and in your face; rather than the larger room sound so definitive of Towner's recordings, Monday's Dream
feels more intimate, a small space recording where the trio is but a few feet away.
The album's title track may well reflect its atmospheric, quieting nature, but for those expecting "Shuffle Boogie" to be some kind of shuffling blues, think again. Instead, a series of repeated intervallic-driven guitar lines that hint, only occasionally, at something more akin to the "boogie" of its title, create the foundation for another impressive opening bass solo supported by Gossage's delicately placed hand percussion, leading to a sublime feature from Ellias that begins as a duo with Gossage but ultimately turns trio, with Vedady a contrapuntal partner rather than temporal anchor.
A considered player loathe to waste any notes to excess, Ellias' approach may seem decidedly left of center, with a clearly personal idea of how beauty is defined, but with rare exception Monday's Dream is
an unapologetically beautiful record, one of subtle delicacy and elegance, and alluring grace and finesse. If this is what retirement means for Roddy Ellias, let's hope he enjoys a long one; with recordings like Monday's Dream
the result, he'll clearly not be the only one to feel the benefit.