While transcribing an interview I did with Aaron Goldberg, I noticed we'd talked quite a bit about his sideman experiences with Joshua Redman, Wynton Marsalis, Mark Turner and Kurt Rosenwinkel. I'd foolishly forgotten, however, to get his thoughts about playing with John Ellis on the record. At the time of the interview, I'd only just heard Ellis's By a Thread. Recently, I've been diving back into that album as well as One Foot in the Swamp -- and kicking myself for not getting Goldberg's thoughts on tape. Ellis and he are a natural fit no matter how restless and risky the musical moment is. Even the most demanding passages sound comfortable and personal in their hands.
So, after YouTubing around, I found two videos of the pair with bassist Leonardo Cioglia –- beautiful tunes, and the solos absolutely sing. I've seen Ellis live only once at a bizarre basement gig at CSU Fullerton. His quartet (Mike Moreno, Alan Hampton and Derek Phillips) played in the underground student union in a pizza parlor, which had a small bowling alley right outside the door. Coincidentally, one of his song titles seemed to articulate the bizarre audience makeup: "Tattooed Teen Waltzes With Grandma." Three elderly ladies were at a table just in front of the stage with a few scattered forty-something men and a fair number of students. He blogged about being exhausted, but the group's performance was amazing -– lyrical, earnest and bristling with energy, if a bit surreal due to the setting. Ellis's tenor sound was full of earth, voice and soul, and his soprano tone was startlingly pure. (I should add that Mike Moreno sounded every bit as impressive as on record, too.)
Goldberg did say something about the saxophonist just as I was leaving the hotel room. We had been talking about players whose musical personalities are honestly unique, as opposed to marketable contrivances. He said Ellis's sound was purely a product of his personal tastes: "A mixture of folk and 'Americana' with modern jazz," "just honest music" and, emphatically, "no bullsh--." You can't get more straightforward than that.
"Lonnie" from By a Thread (via AAJ)
"Lencois de Areia" and "Santa Maria" videos with Leonardo Cioglia
Two live sets from Yoshi's (07.18.05): incredible improvisations, as usual, not to mention a great sounding recording.