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DON ELLIS

Jazz Rock/Fusion • United States


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Don Ellis biography
Although the re-introduction of odd metered rhythms into western music is often credited to Dave Brubeck and George Russell, the first person to make those rhythms rock was Don Ellis. It is a crime that he is one of the most overlooked innovators when it comes to the creation of jazz fusion and progressive rock. When you listen to the late 60s to mid-70s output of bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra, Frank Zappa, King Crimson and The Soft Machine, you are hearing the rhythms that were introduced and energized by Don Ellis.

Don was born in Los Angelas in 1934 and graduated from Boston University with a degree in composition in 1956. In 1959 Ellis moved to new York City and began working with avant-garde jazz musicians such as Eric Dolphy, Charles Mingus and George Russell. By the mid-60s he began to work with third stream (jazz fused with concert hall music) composers such as Larry Austin and Gunther Schuller.

Returning to California in 64, Ellis started working with Indian musician Harihar Rao with whom he began to develop odd metered fusion in a band known as The Hindustani Sextet. The Sextet brought Ellis in contact with the new psychedelic rock scene when they opened for The Grateful and Big Brother and the Holding company at Fillmore West in 1966. Don furthered his relationship with the new psychedelic scene by developing a trumpet with four valves that could play quarter tones and playing his trumpet through an echoplex, a device favored by early psychedelic rockers such as Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix.

In 1967 Ellis signed to Columbia Records and began to record a brilliant series of big band jazz fusion records such as Electric Bath, Shock Treatment and Connection, an album that featured covers by pop and progressive rock bands such as Yes and Procol Harum. In the mid-70s Don developed heart problems that caused him to cut back on his work until he finally died of a heart attack in 1978.

- Easy Money$

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Buy DON ELLIS Music


Don Ellis at FillmoreDon Ellis at Fillmore
Wounded Bird Records 2005
Audio CD$15.10
$10.00 (used)
Tears of JoyTears of Joy
Wounded Bird Records 2005
Audio CD$14.94
$16.74 (used)
Shock TreatmentShock Treatment
Koch Records 2001
Audio CD$8.30
$5.99 (used)
Soaring (Jazz Club)Soaring (Jazz Club)
Import · Remastered
MPS 2008
Audio CD$5.98
$5.78 (used)
AutumnAutumn
Import
FIVEFOUR 2012
Audio CD$8.45
$17.06 (used)
Right Now on Ebay (logo)
DON ELLIS - ESSENCE NEW CD US $28.31 Buy It Now 42m 49s
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DON ELLIS shows & tickets


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DON ELLIS discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

DON ELLIS top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.50 | 2 ratings
...How Time Passes...
1961
3.00 | 1 ratings
Essence
1962
2.60 | 4 ratings
Electric Bath (The Don Ellis Orchestra)
1967
2.05 | 2 ratings
Shock Treatment
1967
4.00 | 5 ratings
Autumn (Don Ellis Orchestra)
1968
3.00 | 1 ratings
The New Don Ellis Band Goes Underground Featuring Patti Allen
1969
3.95 | 2 ratings
Connection
1972
3.00 | 1 ratings
New Ideas
1972
0.00 | 0 ratings
Haiku
1973
0.00 | 0 ratings
Soaring
1973
0.00 | 0 ratings
Music from other galaxies and planets
1977
3.50 | 2 ratings
Out Of Nowhere
1988
0.00 | 0 ratings
The French Connection / French Connection II Soundtracks
2001

DON ELLIS Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.24 | 5 ratings
Live at Monterey (Don Ellis Orchestra)
1966
3.00 | 1 ratings
Live in 3 2/3 / 4 time (The Don Ellis Orchestra)
1966
3.00 | 2 ratings
At Fillmore
1970
4.00 | 2 ratings
Tears of Joy
1971
2.05 | 2 ratings
Live at Montreux
1978
3.00 | 2 ratings
Pieces of eight: Don Ellis Octet live at UCLA
2006

DON ELLIS Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

DON ELLIS Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

0.00 | 0 ratings
Don Ellis
1998

DON ELLIS Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

0.00 | 0 ratings
Jazz Jamboree 1962 (no.1)
1963

DON ELLIS Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Live at Monterey (Don Ellis Orchestra) by ELLIS, DON album cover Live, 1966
4.24 | 5 ratings

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Live at Monterey (Don Ellis Orchestra)
Don Ellis Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by BrufordFreak

5 stars An amazingly intimate and accessible recording of this genre-bending modern big band ensemble on a large stage at a large outdoor concert in 1966. Several writers I've come across cite this performance--the Don Ellis Orchestra performance at the 1966 Monterey Jazz Festival- -as one that blew people away, and inspired many, many musician-performers into wildly radical changes to their approaches to music and performance. Reputedly, Don Ellis never wrote or played a song in straight time (4/4) and this is certainly true for this concert. At Monterey Ellis was expressing his recent enchantment/obsession with Eastern musics, particularly Indian. In my own journey to become familiar with this album I have been intensely aware of the rhythm section. The three bassists, the three drummers and the handful of percussionists on stage during the performance are all impressively tight and attention-attractingly skilled. One of these drummers, a very young Ralph Humphrey, (read: "Ralph Humphrey--The Legend of Odd Meters" in DRUM! magazine) later played with Frank Zappa, Chick Corea, and for a while. Another drummer, also young, Steve Bohannon, has received mention from several writers with respect to his short-lived legacy as a fearless (Steve would say na´ve) musician despite his few years (he died in a automobile accident in 1969 at age 19). Here we are treated to some very clear recordings of these drummers' exceptional prowesses. Apparently it was this performance and recording that propelled Ellis into the world's view. For the next thirteen years his music, recordings, performances, and books would stir controversy in the jazz and music world. What continues to amaze me about this album is how well it has preserved the passion and energy of the performances of that day--and how much I enjoy all of the songs and the light-heartedness of the performances.

A five star masterpiece of progressive music from a VERY serious envelope-pusher. This album is also a treasure that we are very lucky to have.

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 The New Don Ellis Band Goes Underground Featuring Patti Allen by ELLIS, DON album cover Studio Album, 1969
3.00 | 1 ratings

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The New Don Ellis Band Goes Underground Featuring Patti Allen
Don Ellis Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by js (Easy Money)
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin

— First review of this album —
3 stars The music of Don Ellis and his big band tends to come in one, or in a combination, of three different flavors; 1) odd-metered progressive exotic proto-fusion, 2) cutting edge current styles of the competitive collegiate big-band scene, or ') All out lounge-shark tongue-in- cheek Vegas cheeeze. This album, Don Ellis Goes Underground, is almost all the third option and none of the other two, but that doesnt mean this isnt a great album. All the playing, arranging, writing and production on here is top notch. As much as I like Ellis progressive material, when he decides to go for the lounge-core sound he is one of the very best, in a league with the true eccentrics like Tartaglia, Les Baxter and Henry Mancini. The ensemble playing on here is incredibly tight and very high energy, and despite the more commercial direction of this album, you still get some of Ellis trademark progressive tendencies.

The song Bulgarian Bulge, midway through side one, is furiously paced odd-metered Bulgarian party music played with flawless precision. This song showcases Dons interest at that time in Bulgarian music, an interest that lead him to bring several Bulgarian fusion artists to the states. This migration eventually led to Milcho Levievs brilliant keyboard work with Billy Cobham. Elsewhere on this side Ellis and his band play the high energy pop classic, Elis Coming, straight ahead without any sign of irony for a sonic blast of pure big band euphoria.

This album proudly advertises that it features RnB vocalist Patty Allen, but she only shows up on a couple cuts, mostly for good effect though. Her vocals on Higher (not the Sly Stone song) recreates a 60s kitsch soul vibe that recalls cult musical time capsules like Hair and JC Superstar. This album also features the ultimate session lizard faux psychedelic-soul wannabe guitarist Jay Graydon and his always eager and hyper wah-wah pedal which adds so much to Ellis albums in this style.

This album opens with a huge wall of metallic ring-modulated tones from Ellis trumpet that sounds like the ultimate Armageddon between Stockhausen and Sun Ra and then immediately shifts into a groovy big band groove made for a 60s GTO commercial. Some people get musical style and irony, David Bowies gets it, so did Miles Davis. God bless you Don Ellis.

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 At Fillmore by ELLIS, DON album cover Live, 1970
3.00 | 2 ratings

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At Fillmore
Don Ellis Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by js (Easy Money)
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin

3 stars Don Ellis and his big band turned the jazz world upside down in the mid to late 60s with experimental jazz that fused odd-metered rhythms, rock energy, exotic instruments and electronics in a big band setting. By the time we get to 1970 Ellis has seemingly cooled his jets a bit with some slightly more conservative releases until we get to this amazing blast of energy, Don Ellis at Fillmore. I'm not sure which is the ultimate Don Ellis album, but side one plus parts of three and four on this four sided release come pretty close. Side one opens with classic high energy Ellis with lots of percussion break downs and crazy ring modulator effects on Don's trumpet. The live versions of previous studio releases on here are almost unrecognizable as the tempos are so much faster and the playing is so much more intensely on the verge of chaos than on the studio releases.

This being a Don Ellis album there is some inevitable big band cheeze that might be difficult for someone with a rock background to appreciate. After side one's high speed chaos, side two starts off with more traditional big band fare on The Blues and carries on in this manner until the second half of Rock Odyssey (I know, it sounds like a Spinal Tap title) picks up the tempo a bit. Side three opens with Ellis playing his trumpet through an echoplex and ring modulator to create huge soundscapes on a level with Sun Ra and Stockhausen. From here perrenial studio guitarist and lounge meister supreme, Jay Graydon, enters with sarcastic psychedelic guitar and leads the band in a bizarre deconstructionist cover of Hey Jude complete with Zappasque polka sections and a big buildup tease that never quite happens. This side continues with some rockin moments mixed with sophisticated orchestrated ballad like moments. Side four opens with more big band fusion in odd-metered grooves, saxophonist Lonnie Shetter turns in a crazed solo on Great Divide that seems to channel the frenetic style of John Gilmore from Sun Ra's big band. The album closes with more Ellis classics played with renewed enthusiasm and almost avant-garde solos.

This is a big band album and very much for people who love jazz in many of its facets, but for the curious fusion/rocker who wants to hear the roots of bands like Soft Machine, Mahavishnu Orchestra, King Crimson and countless fusion bands, it all starts with Don Ellis in the mid-60s. There are a number of performers on here that went on to play in similar ensembles led by George Duke, Frank Zappa and Billy Cobham. In a sense, Ellis became a training ground for future jazz fusion mini-big bands

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 Electric Bath (The Don Ellis Orchestra) by ELLIS, DON album cover Studio Album, 1967
2.60 | 4 ratings

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Electric Bath (The Don Ellis Orchestra)
Don Ellis Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by snobb
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

2 stars This is Big Band music, so just be ready for that or leave it alone.

I have difficult relations with Big Bands, what means I like to hear some first minutes of them playing somewhere on regular jazz Fest, but it usually becomes boring during ten -fifteen minutes.

This album happily is different. Formally using a big band as musicians resources, Don Ellis adds some unusual (for big bands music) rhythms, complex compositions 'structures and electric keyboards. So - even if it sounds as jazz orchestra music, there are some classical, rock influences in sound and even some unusual psychedelic moments. In some compositions orchestra is used just as supporting band for few soloing musicians.

So - even if still big band music, open ears listener can really find more interesting moments there. What doesn't mean this album is jazz-fusion though. Just some roots of the future jazz fusion experimentalism, hardly more.

The album for collectors and early fusion researchers.

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 Live at Montreux by ELLIS, DON album cover Live, 1978
2.05 | 2 ratings

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Live at Montreux
Don Ellis Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by js (Easy Money)
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin

2 stars Released in 1978, Live at Montreux is Don Ellis' last record before his untimely death due to heart problems. This isn't Ellis' best album, but it's still excellent modern big band music, just not as progressive or psychedelic as some of his other releases. Early in his career Ellis presented an innovative big band jazz music that featured odd-metered rhythms and exotic instrumentation that proved to be a blueprint for artists such as King Crimson, Frank Zappa and The Soft Machine. Fast forward to the late 70s, times have changed and partly due to the new found popularity of commercialized jazz fusion, as well as an increase in excellent high profile college big band programs, big band music was back, but with a new late 70s fusion flavor. Thad Jones, Chuck Mangione, Quincey Jones and Maynard Ferguson were reaching a whole new crowd of college aged jazz fans, as well as the new post-hippie yuppie crowd that wanted to put away their boogie rock and dig something a little more urban and grown-up.

Two songs on here stand out above the rest. Future Feature hit's a classic prog rock fusion Oberheim odd-metered bass line that drives solos from the horns, saxes and violins leading to many complicated arrangement change-ups and the final big buildup from the full horn and string section that recalls Mahavishnu Orchestra's album with an additional 'orchestra'. Sporting Dance is hard driving and intense hippie acid jazz with film noir melodies and a long solo(s) between two battling trombones against a Cobham/Bitches Brew inspired manic drum section.

Elsewhere we get sophisticated and slightly avant-garde takes on popular late 70s music such as disco and Brazilian dance rhythms, as well late 70s styled slick intelligent big band music. If you are a fan of Don Ellis, there is much to like here. If you are looking for an introduction to some of his more progressive material, you may want to look elsewhere.

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 Connection by ELLIS, DON album cover Studio Album, 1972
3.95 | 2 ratings

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Connection
Don Ellis Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by js (Easy Money)
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin

4 stars There's probably enough cheeeze on this one to have most excusing themselves from the table and claiming lactose intolerance, but if you have a taste for the cheeeze, this is some damn good cheeeze! Although Don Ellis is usually known for his innovative big band jazz that combines international odd metered rhythms, concert hall compositions and exotic instrumentation, here he keeps a lot of those progressive tendencies, but eschews all seriousness and applies his techniques to a variety of pop, RnB and prog-rock cover tunes that occasionally get a little too silly, but are often more fun and listenable than some of his more serious work. His band is on fire here and they take to the material with hyper energy and super tight ensemble playing.

The album opens with The Crusader's classic Put it Where You Want it, which is given a faster tempo and a few Ellis styled odd metered turnarounds that keep launching the melody forward in a perpetual motion. Throughout this album Ellis and his top notch arrangers alter these tunes by dropping a beat in the chorus or jumbling parts together in polyphonic fashion which gives each tune a rebirth and a sense of energy that verges on chaos. (JC) Superstar is manic, and like many of the tunes utilizes spare vocal snippets in the chorus for humorous and sarcastic effect.

Instrumental progressive rock covers are hard to come by, which makes the appearance of classics like Conquistador and Roundabout such a treat. Conquistador's melody is given a face-lift with some odd metered phrasing and the chorus swings Vegas style as Ellis builds it up with an excellent trumpet solo. Roundabout makes for an excellent big band tune as the driving verse riff is a natural for a jazz horn section. The band romps through all the changes that are also subjected to their usual rhythmic innovations.

There are many excellent tunes on here, but my favorite is The Carpenter's Goodbye to Love which manages to be both powerful and sarcastic at the same time. It's so amazing when an artist can be profound and self-deprecating in the same stroke. Some of the best works by folks like David Bowie and Miles Davis fall into this category. Goodbye opens with Ellis giving the maudlin melody some sincerity as well as humor, once again recalling Miles' ability to make someone else's tune his own with a mixture of pathos and sly mischief. The middle guitar solo is sublime cheeeze that recalls LA flavored 80s TV car chase scenes before the band builds to an epic prog-rock flavored closing with a powerful repeating odd- metered chorus, massive big band buildup with screaming trumpet and whistling synthesizer sounds.

It's interesting to note that two of Ellis' band members would soon be joining Billy Cobham's mini 'big band' for the outstanding Shabazz album ie Glen Ferris on trombone and the incredible Milcho Leviev on keyboards. Likewise drummer Ralph Humphrey would soon be joining Zappa's group, another seemingly Ellis influenced mini big band.

Cheeeze - Check

Lounge shark - Check

Excellent record - Check Mate!!!

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 Shock Treatment by ELLIS, DON album cover Studio Album, 1967
2.05 | 2 ratings

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Shock Treatment
Don Ellis Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by js (Easy Money)
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin

2 stars In 1966 Don Ellis turned the world of jazz, and particularly big band jazz, upside down with his concert and recording at The Monterey Jazz Festival that featured exotic instrumentation, internationally flavored odd-metered rhythms and psychedelic sounds and sensibilities. The follow up album, Electric Bath, continued in a similar vein, but unfortunately on Shock Treatment Ellis falls off the beam slightly and delivers something a little more conventional. This isn't a bad album, but compared to Live at Monterey there is a definite fall off in progressiveness and exotic flavors. What I miss most about the earlier albums are the breakdown sections where Ellis would play trumpet against a backdrop of percussionists and the band would vary the texture per song in general. Instead, on Shock Treatment the full ensemble is more persistent and the horn section blares away at times when some more sparse instrumentation would be nice for a change.

Overall Ellis' music could be an acquired taste in the modern age. Despite his often proto- progressive jazz rock tendencies, there is always the 'big bandisms' that might remind folks of late night comedians and Vegas lounge acts. On this album that sort of old school sensibility comes more to the forefront than on his more acid sounding releases. Certainly his approach to big band orchestration was revolutionary within that genre, but to the layman those blaring horns and saxophones might have you wondering when Johnny Carson or Tom Jones is going to come out from behind the curtain.

There are two songs on here that stand out. Star Children is 60s psychedelic ambience with exotica Gregorian vocals, twinkling echoed celeste, sitar (of course) and a Spanish tinged Phrygian trumpet melody that recalls Sketches of Spain. Zim, written by woodwinds player Jay Magruder, is just an excellent melody that fits well in a big band format. On both tunes though, as is the case on most of this album, Ellis can't help himself from breaking out the big horn buildups.

For aficionados of modern big band music, this album is superb. The playing, orchestrations, recording and production are outstanding, but for those looking for Ellis' contribution to the formative years of progressive fusion, this is not the best one to go with.

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 Live at Monterey (Don Ellis Orchestra) by ELLIS, DON album cover Live, 1966
4.24 | 5 ratings

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Live at Monterey (Don Ellis Orchestra)
Don Ellis Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by js (Easy Money)
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin

4 stars Released in mid 1966, is Don Ellis Orchestra Live at Monterey the first progressive jazz fusion record and/or the first progressive rock album? Could be. After laying dormant as a recording artist for four years, Don Ellis turned the jazz world upside down with this very left coast concert that fused rock energy, odd-metered time signatures from around the world, and a unique take on big band orchestration that threw tradition out the window. Throughout this album/concert we are treated to sounds and genre combinations that will become common place under the guiding hands of King Crimson, Frank Zappa, The Soft Machine, Miles Davis and others, but this was all brand new when Don Ellis took the stage in Monterrey and unleashed his unique musical vision on the world.

The album opens with heavy bowed strings playing an odd-metered grinding diminished scale riff, it's that 'crime-jazz' sound that will be used to great effect by Robert Fripp on tunes like 21st Century Schizoid Man and Pictures of a City. As the horns, percussion and drums build the intensity we are treated to blistering solos on saxophone and trumpet. The second half of side one is taken up by Concerto for Trumpet, a complicated brassy jazz arrangement that enters into proto-psychedelic territory in the middle section when the band drops out and the bass strings play an ominous drone behind a spacey trumpet soliloquy.

Side two opens with Passacaglia and Fugue, a mixture of classical forms with big band swing. Despite the classical pretensions and complicated fugal sections, the band swings hard on this one and features more hot solos on sax and trumpet. This track is probably the closest to big band jazz as it was known at the time. On the other hand, album closer New Nine is probably the furthest. This one is a wild experimental number with many contrasting sections including tense crime-jazz horn build-ups, crazy psychedelic B3 solos, and odd- metered rhythmic breakdowns in which congas and tablas drive frenetic trumpet solos. Very modern and intense, this is a great way to close out this revolutionary concert.

I used to think Don Ellis' old school 'big bandisms' would be a turn off to young folks, but as I notice the rise in popularity of artists such as Mr Bungle and Diablo Swing Orchestra, It seems the lexicon of big band jazz has found a permanent niche in youth culture, and not just in an ironic or kitsch way either. If you like big band prog-rock such as early 70s Frank Zappa, then you will probably enjoy this. Although this was released in 1966, it is one of Ellis' most modern and progressive works, and probably one of the most accessible to a rock fan.

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 Pieces of eight: Don Ellis Octet live at UCLA by ELLIS, DON album cover Live, 2006
3.00 | 2 ratings

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Pieces of eight: Don Ellis Octet live at UCLA
Don Ellis Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by snobb
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

3 stars This album is newest release of Don Ellis to date. Originally recorded in 1967 during their live show in UCLA, this recording was never released in whole. Around half of it was released as cassette and was only sold during Don Ellis concerts. Now there is a full material with quite good sound quality.

This octet was assembled only once specially for this recording, so in some sense this CD set contains unique materials.

The music from the first look is a bit modernised big band sound, what isn't true. First of all, only a small combo is playing there, just trying to imitate big band's sound. But most important, there are many elements which doing this music much more complex and experimental from regular big band sound. And for sure main difference is rhythms - unusual, very mixed. They gave to all sound a bit strange, "world" atmosphere.

For me this album sounds as proto jazz fusion, still with strong be-bop and big band roots, but with many of small elements showing that the new jazz era is coming. To be honest I am not sure that this album can attract prog rock fans, but it could be interesting for jazz lovers and jazz fusion researchers.

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 Electric Bath (The Don Ellis Orchestra) by ELLIS, DON album cover Studio Album, 1967
2.60 | 4 ratings

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Electric Bath (The Don Ellis Orchestra)
Don Ellis Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by js (Easy Money)
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin

3 stars Released in late 1967, Electric Bath shows Ellis already using the odd-metered rhythms and exotic instrumentation that will be trademarks of his big band for the rest of his career. Likewise, the album also shows him leaning a bit towards rock, although I think to a lot of young people parts of this album could sound like late show type jazz, or even Vegas styled big band lounge music. Although not as 'proggy' or rockin as some of Ellis' later work, he definitely was breaking the pre-existing big band mold with this recording by using electronic keyboards, percussion from around the world, and some influences from modern concert hall music as well.

Side one is the more aggressive side with Ellis and crew rocking out a bit old school style, with loud brassy punches and choruses, and a driving group of drummers and percussionists. This Side closes with the song Electric Bath,, something that might appeal to fans of Zappa's late 60s - early 70s big band music with it's snaky atonal melody and middle odd-metered groove section. Ellis' influence on Zappa's music is obvious during this time period.

On side two things get a bit more interesting when the big band fades to more of a background orchestra as percussion and echoed electric pianos provide atmosphere. Open Beauty starts like a modern acid jazz tune with spacey Fender Rhodes sounds before Ellis' mini-orchestra slowly fills in the background. This side is the more 'exotic' side also with drums often replaced by congas, tablas and other percussion instruments, it also contains Ellis' infamous trumpet solo through an echoplex, one of the first jazz solos ever recorded this way. Loved by the California youth that Don was starting to appeal to, but hated by the jazz critics, this solo brought Ellis a lot of attention, but not all of it good.

The album closer, New Horizons, opens with neo-classical melodies before a beatnik bongo beat drives a trio of flutes in an intertwining cool jazz improv; five finger snaps! Later, mellow Debussy horn harmonies are topped with another Ellis horn solo while Mike Lang's electric piano echoes in the background. Finally more hard groovin odd-metered horn driven jazz takes us to some modern orchestrated diversions and the final big horn showdown.

While fans of Soft Machine III thru V, and early Frank Zappa might find some music to like here, I think a lot of rockers would be turned off by some of the old school big band jazz sounds.

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