Pieces Of Eight & The New Don Ellis Band Goes Underground

Jim Santella By

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Known for his use of unusual meters and remarkable innovations, trumpeter Don Ellis gave the world plenty to think about. If it could be done in the manner that he prescribed, then there was no limit to what other bands could do either. We listened, we accepted, and we learned that we, too, could invent.

Ellis gave us the inspiration that we needed at a time when jazz was undergoing radical changes. These two albums represent both the immaculate musical majesty and the innovative strides that Ellis was able to offer.

Don Ellis Octet
Pieces Of Eight
Wounded Bird Records

While this double CD set is a rare recording that contains quite a bit of previously unreleased material, it does capture Don Ellis and his band in a familiar light. Recorded April 8, 1967 during a concert at UCLA, the performance came just seven months after Ellis' famed Monterey Jazz Festival appearance and album. The same rhythmic concepts apply, the same fierce soloing from woodwinds and brass appears, and the same kind of polyrhythmic density takes hold.

Tom Scott, just eighteen years old, stands out with some precocious soloing. He and Ellis tear it up with creative strides throughout the performance. Dave Mackay's blazing fast boogie-woogie texture in 7/8 meter sets the stage for "Pete's 7," which features both horns on fire and in a groove. Ellis uses a standard trumpet for much of the concert, with a little reverb and his Echoplex folded in gently, and works cohesively with his octet to emulate the big band sound through creative arranging. "Let's Go To Sleep" features his horn in a beautiful 5/8 lullaby that soars eloquently, while "Milestones" drives quite fast, with the full octet's fierce force in 7/8, and "The Squeeze" employs the free use of trumpet microtones.

While unusual meters dot the session, Ellis gives a well rounded performance that combines creative soloing and pure musical timbres with superior writing. His sidemen were always inspired. Pieces Of Eight comes highly recommended for its unique character and for its dedication to the timeless principles of great music.

Don Ellis Big Band
The New Don Ellis Band Goes Underground
Wounded Bird Records

Originally released in 1969, this big band album from Don Ellis proved inspirational. It gave a contemporary quality to big band music - the kind of force that influenced college and university stage bands around the world. Vocals were added, and Ellis emphasized a smooth, pop quality to his arrangements. Melodies were easy to follow, and the songs caught all the emotion that he pumped in so generously. Nevertheless, the album contains the same kind of musical virtuosity that Ellis had demonstrated on earlier albums.

"Eli's Comin'," features a slightly different line-up for the band. The leader's open horn casts a tall shadow, as he expresses the tune's soulful message with emotions bared. Vocals and contemporary electronics brought the arrangement into sync with a new generation's popular music. The clarion trumpet evokes the true spirit of a virtuoso here and elsewhere. Unfortunately, a decision was made to close several of the tracks with a quick fade that leaves you hanging. This was an LP, after all, but time was still limited.

Funk entered the picture for Ellis around this time, and he allowed his band to explode with pieces such as "Good Feelin'," "Love For Rent" and "Higher." Patti Allen sings "Higher" with a powerful gospel feeling and pumped-up emotions. Her interpretations of "Send My Baby Back" and "It's Your Thing" earmarked this album as a pop venture that combined contemporary melodies with a unique big band sound.

The closing number, "Black Baby," a somber trumpet soliloquy with spoken words joining in the soulful refrain, stands out as the album's high point. Ellis gives his audience a powerful thrill, through creative soloing and arranging, but he chooses to share the package with a sampling of popular music from the day.

Tracks and Personnel

Pieces Of Eight

Tracks: Slippin' 'n' Slidin'; Sadness Shouldn't Go So Deep; Bali Dancer; With Respect To Coltrane; Pete's 7; Let's Go To Sleep; Blues For Hari; Milestones; It's A Snap; I Love Us; The Squeeze; Lush Life; Turk's Works.

Personnel: Don Ellis: trumpet; Tom Scott: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, clarinet; Dave Wells: trombone; Dave Mackay: piano; Ray Neapolitan: bass; Steve Bohannon: drums; Alan Estes: timbales, percussion; Chino Valdes: congas, bongos.

The New Don Ellis Band Goes Underground

Tracks: House In The Country; Don't Leave Me; Higher; Bulgarian Bulge; Eli's Comin'; Acoustical Lass; Good Feelin'; Send My Baby Back; Love For Rent; It's Your Thing; Ferris Wheel; Black Baby.

Personnel: Don Ellis: leader, quarter-tone trumpet, electrophonic trumpet, ring modulator, flugelhorn; Glenn Stuart, Stu Blumberg, John Rosenberg, Jack Coan: trumpet, flugelhorn, quarter-tone trumpet; George Bohanon, Jock Ellis, Glenn Ferris: trombone; Dana Hughes: bass trombone; Doug Bixby: tuba; Ron Starr: alto saxophone, clarinet; Fred Selden: alto saxophone, flute, clarinet; Lonnie Shetter: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet, flute, oboe; Sam Falzone: tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute; Hadley Caliman, John Klemmer: tenor saxophone, flute; Jon Clarke: baritone saxophone, clarinet; Mike Altschul: baritone saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute; Pete Robinson: piano, Fender Rhodes electric piano, ring modulator, clavinet, harpsichord; Jay Graydon: guitar; Joe Julian, Carol Kaye, Gary Todd: bass; Ralph Humphrey, Rick Quintinal: drums, vibraphone, percussion; Lee Pastora: congas, bongos, percussion; Gene Strimling: percussion; Patti Allen: vocal.

Visit Don Ellis on the web.

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