Let me set the scene. It’s late 1969 and we’re at a small club in a big city. The place is heaving, full to bursting with cool-looking people of all ages, an infectious trippy atmosphere hangs in the air. The stage in front of us is a sea of cables, leads, instruments, boxes, amps and microphones. The house lights go out and the crowd roars. A psychedelic light show swamps the room with its constantly changing colours and random images, pumping, probing, searching. The band take to the stage. Joe Zawinul acknowledges the crowd. Charles Lloyd takes off his shades. Robert Wyatt spins his drumsticks. Syd Barrett plugs in his guitar. Jaco Pastorius raises his bass above his head. A shadowy figure appears at the microphone and announces; “Good evening my friends. I am the conductor of all things strange, wild and beautiful. My name is Miles Davis. Let us set the controls for the heart of the sun…”
Now wouldn’t that have been a gig!? In reality, however, it’s the back end of 2015, not 1969, and I’m visualising one of my dream gigs as I sit and listen to “Escondido Sessions”, a new release from The Brian Ellis Group. The music I’m experiencing is taking me on this incredible journey, back in time, back to the future, back to the days of experimental, adventurous, mind-bending jazz-prog-rock-ambient-groove music…
Southern Californian Brian Ellis has collected together a group of offbeat musicians on this short but sweet album. Intergalactic free-form psychedelic jazz with a spacey, raw, funky edge just about sums up the mood. It’s refreshing and fun, whilst still managing to engage in some seriously good adventurous interplay. The recording may well evoke memories of Miles Davis, Donald Byrd, Tony Williams, Weather Report and even Soft Machine and Jimi Hendrix, in spirit anyway, but it’s very much an album for the now. “Be here now” as Ram Dass would say. And this is certainly the feeling one gets from this session. Whether intentional or not, the impression given is that of six musicians getting together for a cosmic jam and allowing that particular moment in time to take them where it will. There’s a vibrant, luminous positive energy emanating from the sounds being created, with the musicians seemingly revelling in the opportunity to express themselves. Ellis is at the forefront of the adventure, the multi-instrumentalist utilising his skills to great effect through his chosen instrumentation; Fender Rhodes, Hammond Organ, Wurlitzer, Minimoog and Moogerfooger Sub Phatty. (He also plays sax and guitar though not on this album). He is joined by David Hurle on congas and percussion, Michael Hams on drums and percussion, Patrick Shiroishi on alto and soprano saxes, Paul Marrone on drums, percussion and guitar, and Trevor Mast on bass.
The album’s four tracks weave their own individual magic but it’s essentially irrelevant how many tracks there are, it’s the spacially aware whole that counts. Mesmerising Moog-lines mix with Coltrane-esque spiritual outpourings. Thick groove-laden bass riffs blend with tribalistic percussive beats. Ambient pastoral chords vie for position with organic mind-blowing solos. It’s all in there, and the band bring out the best in each other to create a wonderful atmosphere of music unbound by the stratosphere that would normally hold us in place… The music is set free by the unashamedly spirited performances given on this uniquely unabashed recording. “The Escondido Sessions” is filled with warmth and clarity, the feel of the recording capturing well the intentions of the musicians. A special album that is quite unlike anything else I’ve had the pleasure of listening to this year. Allow your ears to step out of their comfort zone and welcome in the other-worldly sounds of The Brian Ellis Group. You might just find a surprisingly rewarding experience awaits.