If, as the title of his new album suggests, saxophonist John Ellis has one foot in the swamp—meaning the Southern-fried funk of New Orleans, where he spent his formative musical years and recorded his new disc—his other foot is firmly planted in the more adventurous modern jazz scene of his current base here in New York. It’s that mix of North and South, Big Easy and Big Apple, funk and futuristic sounds that makes Ellis one of the more exciting young artists to emerge in recent years.
A key member of guitar whiz Charlie Hunter’s group, Ellis is a fluid, expressive tenor player with chops to spare. And he’s lined up a first-rate band to support him, including Aaron Goldberg on electric keyboards and the Crescent City rhythm section of Jason Marsalis on drums and Roland Guerin on bass; plus special guests John Scofield on guitar, Nicholas Payton on trumpet, and harmonica virtuouso Gregoire Maret. The album opens in a funk vein, with the loping groove of the aptly titled “Happy, but then turns in a more challenging post bop direction with such fine original compositions as “Work in Progress, “Bonus Round and “Seeing Mice. Scofield turns in some especially nasty licks on “One for the Kelpers, another funk number set to a New Orleans shuffle. The album’s most memorable tune is the closer, “Sippin’ Cider, an irresistible foot-tapping reworking of a folk tune with an insistent Big Easy beat laid down by Marsalis and Guerin.
Published: March 19, 2005
Throughout, Ellis seamlessly mixes his down-home roots with NYC sophistication, making this entertaining and provocative album one of the early year’s big successes.