Reference: FSRCD 860
Bar code: 8427328608602
Despite wide experience with several name bands, Los Angeles-born Don Ellis (1934-1978) was almost unknown before he joined George Russells highly experimental sextet early in 1961, and it was his achievements as a composer and trumpeter that saw his emergence as a leading jazz new wave figure.
In this he found a kindred spirit in fellow avant gardist, pianist Jaki Byard, whom he met in Maynard Fergusons 1959 band, and who was part of two stimulating albums Ellis made that broke with traditional jazz practices. The first, the marvelous, controversial How Time Passes, was marked by provocative writing and improvising as Ellis used strong group discipline and the 12-tone row in the search for new expressive areas in jazz. The second, New Ideas (1961), was an exhilarating and compelling embrace of an even wider range of moods notable for the freshness, ingenuity and striking originality of its conception.
Both albums employed only original Ellis compositions (with one by Byard). In contrast, the remaining performances feature Ellis mostly on standards. Recorded live at the fifth International Jazz Jamboree in Warsaw in 1962, all but two were released as part of Jazz Jamboree 1962. Backed by a Polish trio and, on one piece, a large orchestra, they show Elliss prowess as a trumpeter. Regardless of context, he remains a modern among moderns, capturing on trumpet the amalgam of modernity and humanity that ranks him with Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.
-How Time Passes
"Trumpeter Don Ellis' initial recording as a leader (and first of four small group dates from the 1960-1962 period) found him stretching the boundaries of bop-based jazz and experimenting a bit with time and tempo. Teamed up with Jaki Byard (who doubles on piano and alto), bassist Ron Carter and drummer Charlie Persip, Ellis (whose sound was already pretty distinctive) performs four of his unusual originals (including the 22-minute "Improvisational Suite #1") plus Byard's "Waste." Although these musical experiments failed to be influential (Ellis himself went in a different direction a few years later), the unpredictable music is still quite interesting to hear."
"On this 1961 quintet set for Prestige (with vibraphonist Al Francis, pianist Jaki Byard, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Charlie Persip), Don Ellis experiments with time, new chord structures, and free improvisation; a highlight is his brief unaccompanied workout on the free-form "Solo." Ellis, who switches to piano during part of "Tragedy," already had a sound of his own, although he would change the direction of his music within a few years. Even over 40 years later, his thoughtful musical experiments of the early '60s are often quite fascinating to hear."
Both by Scott Yanow -All Music Guide
"Twelve-tone writing, Stockhausen, Cage, Third Stream, wonky time signatures, sound effects: there's plenty here to scare the horses. Ellis's credo was to make use of the widest range of expressive techniques available to him. These early records might have been better served by having Out Of Nowhere or Essence sandwiched in rather than the intriguing but not essential Polish live material. Paul Bley, who featured on both those records, was an important catalyst for the trumpeter, though it was in Jaki Byard that Ellis found his most sympathetic collaborator. Byard's alto playing is almost as significant here as his unmistakably chunky and angular pianism. On Waste he vocalises a dark, rebellious subtext.
How Time Passes is notable for speeding up and decelerating many times over its six and a half minute duration, a practice apparently inspired by Stockhausen. It still makes me smile, but it's clever music and asks significant questions about jazz rhythm. The long Improvisational Suite is organised round a tone-row. Ellis's trumpet is boppy, bright, almost vocalised, and perfectly foiled by Byard. The sound is dry and thoughtful on Solo at the start of CD two, more romantic on the modal ballad Sallie from the earlier album. Carter and Persip (the latter a deeply underrated jazz thinker) accept the premise entirely and play with buoyant understanding.
New Ideas is equally intriguing. Despair To Hope was inspired by a Cage concert and the practice of indeterminacy, but Imitation is a strict canon, and Uh Huh an orthodox Db blues. The most exciting tracks are Cock And Bull (inspired by Tristram Shandy?), which mixes unusual chords with a stop-start structure, and Tragedy, an atonal line that leads to tonal improvisation.
The Polish rhythm section aren't up to speed with Ellis's advanced ideas and the material selected is mostly repertory stuff. Ellis's own diary comment on the music - Rather introverted - pretty much sums it up. The orchestral piece is basic Third Stream, but very good. Excellent, clear documentation by Fresh Sound."
-Brian Morton (Jazz Journal, June 2015)
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