John Ellis: piano, keyboards; Sam Healey: alto sax; Ellie Smith: trombone; Helena Jane Summerfield: tenor sax, clarinet, flute; Jali Nyonkoling Kuyateh: kora; John Haycock: kora; Jessica Macdonald: cello; Pete Turner: bass, synth; Rick Weedon: percussion.
First of all, I would like to clarify that this John Ellis is a British pianist, composer, and producer and not the better-known American saxophonist that you're probably thinking of. Ellis was a co-founder of The Cinematic Orchestra and one of the brains behind it. He also worked with Tom Jones, John Squire (The Stone Roses), Lily Allen, and Corinne Bailey Rae.
His debut feature album as a leader, Evolution: Seeds and Streams may include some loose elements from these artists here and there, but has more to do with the Cinematic’s musical posture where the sonic descriptions are deeply connected with visual stimulation. However, the mood and sound here are quite distinct from that band, thanks to the addictive sounds of the kora, a 21-string lute-bridge-harp originally from West Africa.
The Evolution project gained expression in 2015, after the pianist’s collaboration with the emergent filmmaker Antony Barkworth-Knight.
Pushing us higher and higher in the sky, “Flight” boasts a soaring synthesizer ostinato, disciplined horns, boisterous piano fillings, a weeping cello, and tardy kora dances. It also features a stirring solo by the altoist Sam Healey, who steps forward once again in “Unidentical Twins”, a soul-healing celebration dominated by the exoticism of the kora’s elocution. A steady foundation, laid down by the intersection of Ellis’ keys, Pete Turner’s bass, and Rick Weedon’s percussion, ensures the appropriate stability and flow.
The comforting energies conveyed here are reutilized in “The Ladder”, a hypnotic and slightly spasmodic exercise filled with Eastern melodic phrases, where the excellence of the keyboardist’s gestures can be admired together with a nice solo by trombonist Ellie Smith.
Two interludes of dissimilar conceptions open the doors to “Unidentical Twins” and “The Ladder” - “Interlude One” can be compared to a little prayer of pensive cogitation while “Interlude Two” is a longer, more atmospheric combination of vibrating sounds.
The heartening “Poemander” starts by imposing sublime poetic articulations designed by piano and cello. It gains further density through the participation of kora and reed players.
The goodbyes arrive masquerade of melancholic tones and bathed in a shimmering radiance with “Arrivals”.
It’s not surprising that Ellis has been captivating many listeners with his compositional genius, adroit arrangements, and extraordinary musical vision.
Evolution: Steeds and Streams, a fruitful collection of instrumentals embroidered with strong emotional charge, has the facility to project us into stunning, distant landscapes and inflate our imagination.
Label: Gondwana Records, 2016
01 – Flight ► 03 – Unidentical Twins ► 05 – The Ladder