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Don Ellis: Tears of Joy

Jim Santella By

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Recorded at San Francisco's Basin Street West in 1971, Tears of Joy marked a subtle change in the Don Ellis big band. The trumpeter was gradually drifting toward popular music, and he was beginning to use the new electronic technology to its best advantage. However, he continued to load each arrangement with the kinds of musical features that have always left their unique stamp on his undertakings. Ellis and his other soloists stretch out with virtuosity while complex rhythms and dense counterpoint fill the air, and the band's sections taunt each other with adventurous forays.

Meters of 11/4, 9/4, 5/4, 7/8, 9/8, 9/16, and even 3-2/3 over 4 give these compositions a hearty texture. Ellis' big band arrangements can be studied over and over, and one will still find complexities which yearn to be understood.

"Blues in Elf," a personal favorite, oozes with deep feeling. As the string quartet introduces the leader's trumpet solo, you can feel the release coming. His horn shows the way as Ellis makes use of its fourth valve to place "blue notes" throughout his interpretation. Soul-searching solos by Milcho Leviev on piano and electric piano provide a "before and after" approach to the blues as he transforms the piece's complexion from traditional to modern.

In Ellis' original liner notes, which are included, he terms his teary trumpet feature on "Loss" as an impression that's implied by the title. The band's genuine portrayal is remarkable.

At 82 minutes, the double-disc Tears of Joy captures a considerably-sized portrait of the Don Ellis big band in live performance. Soulful expression comes from every corner. With a samba in nine, a blues in eleven, and a ballad in seven, the band provides plenty of left brain/right brain interaction. That Ellis sits down at the drum set in several places implies more than just a passing fancy with making his rhythms work.

With this live session, Ellis was still the trumpet virtuoso. His cadenzas are remarkable. His band provides thrilling ensemble interpretations, and his soloists step up to the microphone with offerings that match the leader's creativity. Stellar contributions are made in performances by Leviev; saxophonists Lonnie Shetter, Fred Selden, and Sam Falzone; and all three percussionists. Highly recommended, Tears of Joy represents vintage Don Ellis big band excitement at its best.

Track Listing: Tears of Joy; 5/4 Getaway; Bulgarian Bulge; Get it Together; Quiet Longing; Blues in Elf; Loss; How's This for Openers?; Samba Bajada; Strawberry Soup; Euphoric Acid.

Personnel: Don Ellis: quarter-tone trumpet, four-valve flugelhorn, drums, leader; Paul Bogosian, Jack Caudill, Bruce MacKay: trumpet; Kenneth Nelson: French horn; Jim Sawyer: trombone; Kenny Sawhill: bass trombone; Doug Bixby: tuba, contrabass trombone; Fred Selden, Lonnie Shetter, Sam Falzone, Jon Clarke: woodwinds; Alfredo Ebat, Earle Corry: violin; Ellen Smith: viola; Christine Ermacoff: cello; Milcho Leviev: piano; Dennis Parker: bass; Ralph Humphrey, Ron Dunn: drums; Lee Pastora: congas.

Title: Tears Of Joy | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Wounded Bird Records

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