Talk about talent deserving wider recognition. Guitarist Liberty Ellman has been placed in the M-BASE camp by some, but it’s not quite so easy to pin him down. His highly enjoyable debut, Orthodoxy, is an ultra-hip mix of abstract swing and spacey but intense groove—call it Greg Osby meets In a Silent Way by way of The Sorceror. The slow, odd-metered funk and seductive melody of "Psi Missing" is a standout.
Some of the tunes are rather long and take on the feel of a loose jam, making the album a bit repetitive. But you can’t blame Ellman for giving his bandmates so much solo room. Saxophonist Eric Crystal and pianist Vijay Iyer are phenomenal players—Ellman’s Wayne and Herbie. High marks also go to the rhythm section members: bassists Hillel Familant, K. Ellington Mingus, and Rahsaan Fredericks and drummers Brad Hargreaves and E.W. Wainwright. Ellman carves out an understated, almost modest niche for himself. Chops are not his bag, but he never fails to generate ideas and energy. And he gets plenty of mileage from a clean, fat, straight-ahead tone. He doesn’t need effects to sound contemporary.
Closing the record with a piano/guitar duo rendition of the Billy Strayhorn ballad "Blood Count," Ellman shows that he can take material from jazz’s classic era and transform it into something downright futuristic. His interest in blending influences from different eras is also evident in his inclusion of turntables, courtesy of DJ Pause, on the opening track, "Translator." (Babou Sagna on djembe adds additional rhythmic color to the tune.) Ellman is not afraid to travel outside the jazz universe and take advantage of new musical frontiers. Sometimes this sort of genre-hopping can sound contrived, but Ellman manages not to lose his way.
It’s been a couple of years since the release of Orthodoxy. Let’s hope there’s a lot more to come from Liberty Ellman.
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