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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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DON ELLIS discography


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

3.33 | 3 ratings
New Ideas
1961
3.17 | 6 ratings
...How Time Passes...
1961
3.33 | 3 ratings
Essence
1962
3.48 | 18 ratings
The Don Ellis Orchestra: Electric Bath
1967
2.40 | 6 ratings
Shock Treatment
1968
4.00 | 8 ratings
Autumn (Don Ellis Orchestra)
1968
3.00 | 3 ratings
The New Don Ellis Band Goes Underground Featuring Patti Allen
1969
3.93 | 8 ratings
Connection
1972
4.00 | 5 ratings
Haiku
1973
3.30 | 8 ratings
Soaring
1973
5.00 | 1 ratings
Music from other galaxies and planets
1977
3.50 | 2 ratings
Out Of Nowhere
1988
5.00 | 2 ratings
The French Connection / French Connection II Soundtracks
2001

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

4.33 | 3 ratings
Live in 3 2/3 / 4 time (The Don Ellis Orchestra)
1966
4.40 | 10 ratings
Live at Monterey (Don Ellis Orchestra)
1967
3.13 | 5 ratings
At Fillmore
1970
4.14 | 7 ratings
Tears of Joy
1971
2.18 | 3 ratings
Live at Montreux
1978
3.00 | 2 ratings
Pieces of eight: Don Ellis Octet live at UCLA
2006
5.00 | 2 ratings
Live In India
2010

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
 The Don Ellis Orchestra: Electric Bath by ELLIS, DON album cover Studio Album, 1967
3.48 | 18 ratings

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The Don Ellis Orchestra: Electric Bath
Don Ellis Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by BrufordFreak
Collaborator Heavy Prog & JR/F/Canterbury Teams

5 stars Late in 1967, Columbia Records releases their first collaboration with The DON ELLIS ORCHESTRA in the form of a studio album entitled, Electric Bath. Fresh out of the euphoric haze of two very successful live albums and a year of almost continuous touring to festival and rock 'n' roll audiences, Don welcomed the new partnership with Columbia producer John Hammond and with it the chance to work out some of his ideas in a studio setting. Over the course of two days in September (the 16th & 17th) the band put down on tape several songs, five of which would end up on the Grammy Award nominated and Down Beat magazine "1968 Album of the Year."

1. "Indian Lady" (8:07) When I first heard the opening bars to this piece, I was immediately drawn to a comparison to the music of ROBERT WYATT's "Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road" from his 1974 comeback album, Rock Bottom. The song, played in 5/4 time throughout (and released as a single in a shortened three-minute version), is actually rather famous for its almost-comical multiple "attempts" to end throughout the song. Despite the large ensemble of musicians, the music somehow comes across smoothly, far more easy for the brain to accommodate than one might expect. Heck! There are even some melodic HERB ALPERT-like riffs and motifs. (13.5/15)

2. "Alone" (5:32) soothing and filled with gorgeous melodies, this one reminds me of some of the mellower pieces on my beloved 1970s albums by Eumir Deodato and Bob James as well as many of the jazzy television music providing background and mood for popular television shows that I would watch as a small child in the late 1966s--like I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, and The Newlywed Show. Lots of big banks of horns. (9.5/10)

3. "Turkish Bath" (10:29) dynamic music with an Indian base coming from the sitar, tabla and other Indian percussion, as well as flutes and slurring horns. Once set in motion the Latin rhythms and melody structure give it a feel quite similar to Billy Page's song "The 'In' Crowd" as made popular by Dobie Gray and Ramsey Lewis. Who knew that Indian instruments, big band horns, and electric clavinet could be melded together so easily into a bassa nova song?!! (18/20)

4. "Open Beauty" (8:27) beautiful and yet haunting in a psychedelic way thanks to the electric effects applied to the keyboard and vibraphone. Unusual for the minimal presence of drums or other percussives. The extended quarter-tone trumpet solo with echo effect from 5:30 to 8:05 is also remarkable for its particular singularity. (17.5/20)

5. "New Horizons" (12:21) this is a song that sounds to my untrained ear like a pretty standard big band jazz piece. If there are extraordinary things happening I'm not able to pick them up; it's just another long piece with minimal melodic hooks played within a base of a Latin-rock rhythms. (21.75/25)

Total Time 44:56

The musicianship is incredible all-around; how 20 musicians can play such complex music so seamlessly and cohesively is nothing short of amazing. Don's mission to open the West up to the odd meter times "naturally" used in the rest of the world's folk traditions had begun in earnest and would not quit through the rest of the Sixties, only take a slight Bulgarian left turn in the Seventies thanks to his meeting and pairing up with Bulgarian jazz and piano sensation Milcho Leviev.

A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of boundary-pushing jazz-rock fusion.

 The Don Ellis Orchestra: Electric Bath by ELLIS, DON album cover Studio Album, 1967
3.48 | 18 ratings

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The Don Ellis Orchestra: Electric Bath
Don Ellis Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by Prog Network

4 stars The Don Ellis Orchestra's "Electric Bath" is a captivating Experimental Big Band/Third Stream gem that pushes the boundaries of traditional big band sound. Ellis's innovative compositions and adventurous arrangements lead to a thrilling listening experience. The album seamlessly blends jazz, rock, and avant-garde elements, creating an electrifying atmosphere. The musicians' technical prowess is also excellent, especially in the intricate time signatures and improvisational sections. While this album may feel slightly odd for those unaccustomed to early Don Ellis, and know him for his future Jazz-Fusion work, the overall energy and creativity are undeniable. "Electric Bath" is a testament to Ellis's forward-thinking vision and the orchestra's wonderful musicianship, making it an excellent listen for music enthusiasts and anyone seeking a refreshing musical adventure.
 Haiku by ELLIS, DON album cover Studio Album, 1973
4.00 | 5 ratings

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Haiku
Don Ellis Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by Matti
Prog Reviewer

4 stars -- First review for this album --

DON ELLIS (1934 -- 1978) was an American jazz trumpeter, drummer, composer and bandleader. He experimented especially with time signatures, and later in his life he composed several soundtracks, the best known of those films being The French Connection (William Friedkin, 1971). Often his albums are big band oriented with lots of brass, and in this sense Haiku is a unique work. Actually it's pretty unique in the whole jazz genre. The ten Ellis originals are "based" on Japanese haiku poems and feature a large string orchestra (ie. violins, violas and cellos) plus harp, behind the leading instrument which is naturally the trumpet played by Ellis. There are also guitarists, keyboards and a rhythm section involved, but on some pieces their roles are relatively small. On some tracks such as 'Parting' the rhythm section is more present, but always in a peaceful manner.

The music is extremely mellow, relaxed, starry-eyed romantic and introspective. The arrangements by Ellis himself are excellent in their harmonic smoothness. Perhaps the music is at times almost too sentimental for its own good -- or then not! Naturally it depends on the listener's point of view. I wholeheartedly appreciate this album for being proudly what it is. Listen to 'Mirror-Pond of Stars' or 'Two Autumns' for example, and you know why I used the words starry- eyed romantic.

Also the track titles reflect the nature-inspired serenity: 'Blossoming', 'Cherry Petals', 'Summer Rain', 'Dew', etc. To whom this music is best recommended? To romantic minds who appreciate introspective melodies and relaxed mellowness, and who enjoy the sounds of the trumpet, harp and softly played strings, and who are not straight away put off by sentimento. Very beautiful music to soothe your mind and make you feel dreamy and romantic.

 Soaring by ELLIS, DON album cover Studio Album, 1973
3.30 | 8 ratings

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Soaring
Don Ellis Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by Mirakaze
Special Collaborator Eclectic Prog & JR/F/Canterbury Teams

3 stars On Soaring, Don Ellis straddles a line between jazz fusion and more conventional jazz forms. In addition to electric guitar, bass guitar and electric keyboards, the trumpeter is accompanied by full big band with a large wind section and a string quartet, which fans of the typical 70s jazz fusion sound may not be particularly charmed by. I too must admit that on some of the weaker tracks like "Go Back Home" or the ballad "Invincible", the strings and general instrumentation make the music sound rather overblown and cheesy. "Image Of Maria" is the most mystifying track of all: it sounds less like a jazz song and more like a Morricone-esque piece of film music, although that comparison is probably overselling it. The main theme sounds pretty but it just sort of peters out anticlimactically after three minutes.

Still, there's enough to like about the album. The first three tracks show a funk influence but are sure to spice themselves up with uneven rhythms (as on "Whiplash", popularized by the 2014 movie of the same name), a gradual buildup of intensity (as on "Sladka Pitka") or with intricate contrapuntal melodic lines (as on "The Devil Made Me Write This Piece"). The latter two pieces especially showcase the big band at its best, with the orchestral timbre and large array of players helping these tracks come to life beautifully. Ellis himself also plays some great solos throughout, the best being on "Sidonie" near the end of the album. I don't think the album as a whole is consistently interesting enough to warrant more than a three-star rating, but there is in fact good stuff happening here.

 Live at Monterey (Don Ellis Orchestra) by ELLIS, DON album cover Live, 1967
4.40 | 10 ratings

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

Review by BrufordFreak
Collaborator Heavy Prog & JR/F/Canterbury Teams

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.

 The New Don Ellis Band Goes Underground Featuring Patti Allen by ELLIS, DON album cover Studio Album, 1969
3.00 | 3 ratings

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

Review by Easy Money
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin

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.

 At Fillmore by ELLIS, DON album cover Live, 1970
3.13 | 5 ratings

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At Fillmore
Don Ellis Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by 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

 The Don Ellis Orchestra: Electric Bath by ELLIS, DON album cover Studio Album, 1967
3.48 | 18 ratings

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The Don Ellis Orchestra: Electric Bath
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.

 Live at Montreux by ELLIS, DON album cover Live, 1978
2.18 | 3 ratings

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Live at Montreux
Don Ellis Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by 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.

 Connection by ELLIS, DON album cover Studio Album, 1972
3.93 | 8 ratings

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Connection
Don Ellis Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by 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!!!

Thanks to easy money for the artist addition.

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