This second outing by John Ellis & Double Wide, the versatile saxophonist/bass clarinetist’s extraordinary New Orleans-based band, one ups the “serious fun” mentality by inviting a pair of guests—harmonica master Gregoire Maret and multifaceted trombonist Alan Ferber—to augment the unusual quartet of sousaphonist Matt Perrine, drummer Jason Marsalis and newcomer Brian Coogan (replacing Gary Versace) on organ. The result is an even more flavorful gumbo that spices up the homegrown roots of the Crescent City with the savory sounds of the New York City jazz scene. Beginning with the brassy NOLA homage “Okra & Tomatoes” and concluding with funereal “This Too Shall Pass,” the date serves up a mixed menu of Americana that could have only been concocted in the country’s original melting pot.
Ellis is a selfless front man, spotlighting the substantial skills of his sidemen and guests as soloists, almost to the point of subjugating his own instrumental voice to a secondary role—a tactic that makes the gutsy sound of his horn that much more compelling when it does come to the fore. Yet it is the reedman’s considerable capabilities as a composer (at times recalling the work of Carla Bley and Henry Threadgill, as well as Kurt Weill and Charles Ives) that are most impressive. His ability to paint vibrant musical pictures with the seemingly limited tonal palette of the band’s odd instrumentation is simply astonishing.
Perrine is tireless in providing the pulsating foundation at the heart of the music and Marsalis is at his rhythmical best, playing with a freewheeling confidence that contributes greatly to the exuberance of pieces like the second-lining “Fauxfessor” and Spanish-tinged “Héroes de Acción.” Maret is nothing short of remarkable in the emotional breadth he elicits from his diminutive instrument, brooding deeply on “Carousel” and “Chorale” and swinging bluesy (as do Coogan and Ferber) on the title track and elsewhere. In the spirit of New Orleans, this album is a truly cooperative endeavor, one that effectively comes to life due to the genius of puppet master Ellis.
Published: March 6, 2010