Don Ellis


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After playing in George Russell's sextet in New Yrok, white trumpeter Don Ellis showed his credentials as one of the most experimental musician of his time in a quartet with pianist Jaki Byard, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Charlie Persip on How Time Passes (october 1960), notably the 22-minute Improvisational Suite #1. Adding vibraphonist Al Francis, New Ideas (may 1961) enjoyed sabotaging all the elements of jazz music, and Essence (july 1962) by another quartet (with pianist Paul Bley and bassist Gary Peacock) delivered complex and brainy pieces such as Ostinato and Form.

After a brief stint in the European avantgarde and with the Improvisational Workshop Orchestra (1963) in New York, Ellis moved back to his native Los Angeles where he studied Indian classical music with Harihar Rao and formed The Hindustani Jazz Sextet (1965), which included Rao on sitar. This group evolved into the larger Stan Kenton-esque Don Ellis Orchestra (1966) for which the leader employed a customized four-valve quarter-tone trumpet. Live at Monterey (september 1966) includes a Concerto for Trumpet as well as pieces in all sorts of unusual meters.

Live in 32/3/4 Time (march 1967) includes several lengthy demonstrations such as Orientation, all of them in odd time signatures (hence the title of the album).

Don Ellis incorporated elements of rock music and of electronic music, as well as indulging in unorthodox time signatures, on Electric Bath (september 1967), notably the 12-minute New Horizons (in 17/4) and Turkish Bath (composed by his trombonist Ron Myers) as well as their signature tune Indian Lady. The album featured several reedists, plus piano and vibraphone, accompanied with exotic instruments such as sitar, congas and timbales. During that time Ellis also composed the symphony Contrasts for Two Orchestras and Trumpet (1967).

His experiments at the trumpet peaked with the 20-minute Variations for Trumpet, off Autumn (august 1968), that also includes a 17-minute version of Indian Lady. The orchestra became popular among the rock audience for its idiosyncratic interpretation of contemporary rock music, but the albums disappointed, even At Fillmore (june 1970) despite the 17-minute Final Analysis, despite ever larger line-ups. The experimental side showed up once more in Strawberry Soup, off Tears of Joy (may 1971). By then the orchestra consisted of a wind quartet, a string quartet, a brass octet and a five-piece rhythm section. Haiku (june 1973) contains contemplative pieces for string orchestra and jazz quartet inspired by Japanese haiku poetry.

Ellis died in december 1978.

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(Copyright © 2015 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
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