Dick’s Picks: Vintage ’60s Big Band Jazz With a Freaky Twist from Don Ellis……
Now here’s a man with pedigree; born in 1934 Ellis was an accomplished trumpeter who got his first musical ‘posting’ with Glenn Miller’s war-time swingers. Fast forward to the late ‘50s and Ellis was living in New York and playing with acclaimed ‘jazzers’ Charlie Barnet and Maynard Ferguson, but before you could say 7/4 time he jumped (musical) ships and plunged headlong into the cities burgeoning avant-jazz scene – you can find him on albums by Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and George Russell to name but three. By the ‘70s he was scoring big movies like the ‘The French Connection’ and ‘The Seven-Ups’ – did we mention that he was also a renowned bandleader and pretty darn hot on the drums too (sadly, rumours that he could do all three at the same time remain unconfirmed).
Released in 1968 this was Ellis’s second solo album and what a strange, underrated beast it is! Ellis wasn’t shy in using the studio to enhance the recordings individual tracks, he was also rather fond of employing exotic time signatures, electronic effects and, ever-the-band-leader, ensuring rousing performances throughout. Second track ‘Mercy, Baby, Mercy’ fades in on-a-just-begging-to-be-sampled-breakbeat before the full big band treatment enters centre stage.
‘Milo’s Theme’ is something else altogether, 4.30 of ambient jazz replete with flat-lining interludes before giving way to all manner of sonic exploration, look out for the dub style effects at the four minute mark – NICE!
‘Star Children’ also broke new ground, not only with the massed choral backing (the first time he’d worked with vocals) but check the use of sitar throughout, it’s the same desire that drove those in the rock world to look beyond Western instrumentation and go just that bit further out, and that can only be a good thing right?