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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Liberty Ellman Sextet – Radiate (Pi Recordings, 2015) ****½

By Chris Haines

This is Liberty Ellman’s first solo release since 2006’s Ophiucus Butterfly and although it has been a long time coming it has been well worth the wait.  As a long-standing member of Henry Threadgill’s Zooid it is not surprising that he brings some of these elements into his own music.  With a crack band consisting of Steve Lehman on alto saxophone, Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Jose Davila on tuba and trombone, Stephan Crump on bass, and Damion Reid on drums, the guitarist delivers eight originals that are as consistent in artistic endeavour as they are diverse in mood and musical content.

The first track “Supercell” with it’s funky drum pattern and syncopated tuba line instantly conjures up a Threadgill-like feel where jagged rhythmic lines are well oiled and made to groove whilst the saxophone, trumpet and guitar initiate trading short phrases before Ellman excellently opens out his playing with some slick chromatic runs that pour from his guitar.  The piece ends with a strong punctuated motivic line from the band whilst Lehman and Ellman, in unison, play a rapid syncopated melody over the top that is beautifully executed.  “Furthermore” then offers a great contrast with it’s less overtly rhythmic feel and its open form that allows the individual musicians to really express themselves through their playing as if trying to reach some pinnacle of ecstasy.  Whilst “Rhinoceros” grunts along with it’s tuba line that conjures up images of the powerful beast at the beginning before losing some of its programmatic content as the piece develops.  Not being frightened to bring in some different sounds Ellman subtly introduces some effected textures into the background as washes of colour, which is also noticeable on the last track “Enigmatic Runner” with it’s inclusion of electronic drum ‘n’ bass type patterns. Liberty Ellman expertly weaves his melodic guitar lines through and around these rhythms to create a coherent and exciting finale to the album.  He mainly plays with a warm, smooth tone to his guitar but isn’t averse to overdriving the sound on particular moments and when the piece demands it.

The ensemble playing on Radiate is right on the money and the band groove, swing and motor along on tunes whilst leaving plenty of room for exploratory playing and solos.  Liberty Ellman is a fantastic free-jazz guitarist, composer and band leader, who has put together a really great album that contains a focus on a particular style and sonorousness whilst sounding liberating and fresh.  Fans of Threadgill’s Zooid, melodic free jazz guitar and well thought out creative music making will want to hear this and hopefully not have to wait so long for a follow-up.

2 comments:

Martin Schray said...

You can listen to "Rhinocerisms" here: http://www.libertyellman.com/music/.

joesh said...

Nice review Chris, thanks. I've always been impressed by Ellman's work with Henry Threadgill, I'll definitely check this one out.

I have to admit that I'm not sure I'd call Ellman a 'free-jazz' guitarist. He seems, like Lehman, someone who has a system that he works with.

Out of interest, if I remember correctly, Threadgill has a system, which all his musician's had to learn, to be able play his music (in the way Threadgill wanted).