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Ellen Weller: Spirits, Little Dreams and Improvisations

Budd Kopman By

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With Spirits, Little Dreams and Improvisations, Ellen Weller has created an album that attempts to unite the mystical with the musical. The liner art has many hieroglyphic-type symbols, as well as spirals and other shapes that feel like they are trying to "cross over to the other side."? Jewish mysticism is clearly referenced as "dybbuk" is defined as "(Jewish mythology) a wandering soul that becomes attached to a living person to accomplish some task that it was unable to complete in life."? Weller also defines "spirare" and "inspired," tying improvisational inspiration to the dybbuk coming back to life.

The collected ensemble numbers eleven, but there is no indication who plays on which track, except that Ellen Weller appears to play on all of them. There are some names I recognize, notably George Lewis (trombone) and Vinny Golia (reeds of all kinds). Nathan Hubbard (percussion) and Bertram Turetzky (bass) also show up on David Borgo's Reverence for Uncertainty , another recent Circumvention Music release.

The seventeen (!) tracks include five starting with the word "Elemental"? in the title, and my guess is that the numbers afterwards indicate how many soloists are accompanied by how many others. There are two duets ("Dialogic #1 and #2,"? both with Lewis), and the other tracks feature varied number of players. The percussion itself is mostly of the "free"? sort whereby the sounds created are more important than a defined beat or pulse, and many times one can hear the rhythm of a phrase echoed by the percussion.

The variety of sounds, textures and moods in quite intriguing, with Weller leading the way on various reeds and flutes as other players come and go, changing the texture and complexity of the sound. A definite world was created during the flow of the tracks, with each individual one its own island, and it might not be mere projection that had it feel mystical.

Of all the tracks, the longest four stand out. "The Rebbe's Premonition (Doina)"? is a klezmer piece for two clarinets and an arco bass staying on a pedal point. "Grandma Rose's Dreml (Little Dream)"? somehow immediately signals its greater length (11:21), during which it rises and falls, starting with the ethereal, moving to the driving and then returning to the simple before fading out. "Possession/Corruption of the Vulnerable"? is quite a trip as the contrabass clarinet, many times with harmonics, dominates, eventually joined by low trombone. The longest track, "Celebration, Transfiguration, and Release into the Ether,"? is actually the most rhythmically conventional, perhaps because a dance is being evoked, and is quite welcome by this point in the disc, as a saxophone grows more and more ecstatic against the percussion, and the imagined dancers reach towards spiritual release.

The players produce many amazing sounds. All in all the total effect of the album was quite thrilling, once I learned to give myself up to the dybbuk.


Track Listing: Elemental 1-1 (5:37), Dybbuk (4:09), Dialogic #2 (2:06), Unfinished Business (2:33), Elemental 1-3 (3:12), The Rebbe's Premonition (Doina) (5:04), Grandma Rose's Dreml (Little Dream) (11:21), Elemental 3-1 (3:47), Possession/Corruption of the Vulnerable (6:08), Elemental 1-2 (1:19), Inner Struggle (4:42), Council of the Elders (1:57), Elemental 2-2 (2:49), Dialogic #1 (3:58), Peering In From The Other Side (2:13), Celebration, Transfiguration, And Release Into The Ether (12:00), Elemental 1-5 (1:37)

Personnel: Ellen Weller - flute, soprano sax, B flat clarinet, piccolo, fife, windrum, misc jangles, Lisle Ellis - electro acoustic bass, Marcos Fernandes - percussion, field recordings, talking drum, electronics, Vinny Golia - sopranino and tenor saxes, B flat and contrabass clarinets, Nathan Hubbard - percussion, electronics, congas, berimbau, tuning pipe, whistling, George Lewis - trombone, Bertram Turetzky - contrabass, Scott Walton - contrabass, Bob Weller - piano, drums, Charlie Weller - contrabass, Robert Zelickman - B flat clarinet

Title: Spirits, Little Dreams and Improvisations | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Circumvention Music

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