If, as the title of his new album suggests, saxophonist John Ellis has one foot in the swampmeaning the Southern-fried funk of New Orleans, where he spent his formative musical years and recorded his new dischis other foot is firmly planted in the more adventurous modern jazz scene of his current base here in New York. It's that mix of North and South, Big Easy and Big Apple, funk and futuristic sounds that makes Ellis one of the more exciting young artists to emerge in recent years.
A key member of guitar whiz Charlie Hunter's group, Ellis is a fluid, expressive tenor player with chops to spare. And he's lined up a first-rate band to support him, including Aaron Goldberg on electric keyboards and the Crescent City rhythm section of Jason Marsalis on drums and Roland Guerin on bass; plus special guests John Scofield on guitar, Nicholas Payton on trumpet, and harmonica virtuouso Gregoire Maret. The album opens in a funk vein, with the loping groove of the aptly titled "Happy, but then turns in a more challenging post bop direction with such fine original compositions as "Work in Progress, "Bonus Round and "Seeing Mice. Scofield turns in some especially nasty licks on "One for the Kelpers, another funk number set to a New Orleans shuffle. The album's most memorable tune is the closer, "Sippin' Cider, an irresistible foot-tapping reworking of a folk tune with an insistent Big Easy beat laid down by Marsalis and Guerin.
Throughout, Ellis seamlessly mixes his down-home roots with NYC sophistication, making this entertaining and provocative album one of the early year's big successes.
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
Jazz and the blues--because together this musical brother and sister speak from our nation's days of the current cultural affairs and the authenticity and truth of a place where the rhythms held the pulse and the drums the heartbeat, representing every step closer the meat on the bone
Jazz and the blues--because together this musical brother and sister speak from our nation's days of the current cultural affairs and the authenticity and truth of a place where the rhythms held the pulse and the drums the heartbeat, representing every step closer the meat on the bone. Feet in the dirt, or barefoot on a stage with sequins--it's soul beats in my chest.
I was first exposed to jazz while others listened to surf music in the '50s and '60s, it was Monk, Miles, Satchmo and Ella, Rosemary Clooney and Julie London followed. Margaret Whiting, Les McCann, Willie Bobo, Andy Simpkins, Snooky Young, Bill Basie and Helen Humes. The first time I heard Topsy, Take 2, I about passed out at the age of ten.
I've hung with Les McCann who more than 30 years after our first meeting became my duet partner on my CD, Don't Go To Strangers. Karen Hernandez from the start, Jack Le Compte on drums, Lou Shoch on bass, Steve Rawlins as my arranger and pianist, Grant Geissman - guitar genius, Nolan Shaheed, Richard Simon, and more. The big boys. My Red Hot Papas. The best show I ever attended was...
I met Helen Humes first back in 1981 and helped turn one Playboy Jazz Festival night into her tribute, bring the Basie Band to stage, her joy boys. Before she took the stage for the last time to sing, If I could Be With You One Hour Tonight thousands of copies of the newspaper I wrote for carried her story. It was kismet, her being held by Joe Williams backstage. Soon in my life were the great Linda Hopkins who told me I sang the song she wrote better than her, which floored me of course, the energizing Barbara Morrison and the stellar Marilyn Maye who guided me professionally.
My advice to new listeners... let your backbone slip and feel your body stripping back the barriers that prevent us from being one with the music.
Remember none of us are strangers, we just haven't met yet.