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June 2006

John Ellis
By a Thread
Hyena

Saxophonist John Ellis first made his name as the sax foil in Charlie Hunter’s band, from which he has gained some fine ideas about how to balance body-shaking groove and brainy grit. His guitarist, Mike Moreno, spins out graceful, fleet and linear solos and thickens many a melody, while pianist Aaron Goldberg—noted for his gig in Terrence Blanchard’s band—gives a mainstream solidity to the sound while leaning into the shifting idiomatic turns Ellis throws at the band. Bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Terreon Gully lay down the all-important grounding, providing a slinky force on the cool and slippery “Tall Drink of Water” and a deceptively lazy pulse on “Umpty Eleven.”

“Ferris Wheel” is a fast-swinging opener, while “Moore’s Alphabet” goes down the fat funky road. “Little Giggles” veers a bit too close to smooth jazz for comfort, but “Lonnie,” one of the finest tracks here, plots its simple melodic phrases over rolling guitar ostinatos and choice Latin-tinged bass lines. It’s an experimental blend that works beauteously.

Ellis’ robust playing on soprano and tenor, with detours on flute and bass clarinet, leads the way throughout, but this date generally has more of an emphasis on the collective and the compositional aspects.

Originally published in June 2006
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