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John Ellis: One Foot In the Swamp

C. Michael Bailey By

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"Calmette Shawarma" (track 10 on this release) is one of those rare jazz compositions that is beautifully tethered to nothing and makes perfect sense when you hear it. It begins with a "standard" jazz head that is complex in the way Jazz Messengers heads were in the '50s and '60s when Wayne Shorter was redefining the meaning of hard bop. This inspired ensemble playing demonstrates the depth of trumpeter Nicholas Payton's vision. The piece begins in an orderly enough fashion and then traces the history of jazz from Miles Davis' "Walkin'" through "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down." This track is followed by the closing New Orleans-inspired "Sippin' Cider," which has a melody and vibe that should ne reported to the Centers for Disease Control for its infectious nature. "Sippin'" perfectly illustrates the island influence in the traditional New Orleans rhythm.

What One Foot In the Swamp is is the recording that David Sanborn has been seeking for thirty years, a contemporary R&B recording from the 21th Century that impels the listener to realize what this music is without ever allowing the listener to forget where it came from. It makes you want to dance. Saxophonist Ellis runs the entire jazz gambit from the slick R&B of "Happy" and "Work in Progress" to the the avant-garde of "Work in Progress" and "Calmette Shawarma." Ellis proves a very capable saxophonist on tenor or soprano saxophones. His tenor is Ben Webster-rich on the rural-gospel "Country Girl." Aaron Goldberg's Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer provides a Crusaders-like environment in which the saxophonist may expand.

Interesting instrumentation is used on this recording. Gregoire Maret provides perhaps the finest chromatic harmonica since Toots. He in in abundent evidence on the lengthy essay "Seeing Mice." The harmonica and tenor saxophone bounce off one another in an aural vinaigrette that is at once understated and heady. John Scofield justifies his funk stripes on "One for the Kelpers." Beautifully funky and fresh, the guitar, electric piano, and tenor swirl around one another in a dance of rhythm.

There is not enough of this music out there. John Ellis has an omniverous vision, as demonstrated by his music. I very heartily recommend this fine recording.

Track Listing

Happy; Work in Progress; Country Girls; Bonus Round; Seeing Mice; One for the Kelpers; Ostinato; Michael Finnegan; Chalmette Shawarma; Sippin

Personnel

John Ellis, tenor and soprano sax; bass clarinet; ocarina; Nicholas Payton, trumpet; Gregoir Maret, chromatic harmonica; John Scofield, guitar; Aaron Goldberg, keyboards; Jason Marsalis, drums; Roland Guerin, bass.

Additional information

Title: One Foot in the Swamp | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Hyena Records

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