John Ellis - Evolution: Seeds and Streams

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.

         Grade  A-

         Grade A-

Label: Gondwana Records, 2016
Favorite Tracks:
01 – Flight ► 03 – Unidentical Twins ► 05 – The Ladder

Will Bernard - Out & About

Will Bernard: guitar; John Ellis: saxophone; Brian Charette: organ; Ben Allison: bass; Allison Miller: drums.


The new material designed by the Brooklyn-based jazz guitarist Will Bernard, a Grammy-award nominated (with Party Hats in 2007), was built up with the esteemed contribution of reliable musicians.
The stylistic openness evinced by Bernard along his career allowed him to work in such a different projects with names like Tom Waits, Jai Uttal, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Charlie Hunter, and Peter Apfelbaum.
Both these experiences, together with his very own personal touch and vision, brought positive effects to his ninth album, Out & About, a solid effort that precisely reveals his broad range of expression.

Nothing better to start than a wha-wha guitar, saturated with soul and funk elements, laid out on a cheerful bass-drums groove. This is what happens in “Happy Belated”, the first track of the album that features fulgurant improvisations by Bernard and Ellis. This pair of ramblers is in evidence again in “Next Guest”, an avant-garde settlement whose head relies on a strong motivic figure.
Rich in tempo variations, “Habenera” changes the mood completely, becoming harmonically oriented by Charette’s organ and perceptively accentuated by the adroit rhythm section. 

Typical jazz idioms return in “Redwoods”, an up-tempo, elated tune where all the performers have the opportunity to expand their personal creativity, as well as in “Homeward Bound”, a tune infused with a cool rock atmosphere, and “Homebody”, a sneaky creation of pacific contours.
Suggested Reading”, a volatile and vagrant ramble ideally conceived for Bernard’s uncompromising explorations, also showcases Ben Allison’s soloing expertise, while “Full Sweep” suggests a Latin feel swept by Ellis’ spontaneity. The album finishes with the elegant title track, holder of a tango-ish sparkle and beautiful melody, but only after “Pan Seared”, a sensitive ballad adorned with Miller’s concise brushwork.

Uncomplicated, agreeable, and passionate, are three adjectives that, applied simultaneously, better define Out & About.

         Grade  A-

         Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
03 – Next Guest ► 04 – Habenera ► 11 – Out & About