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Lisle Ellis: Sucker Punch Requiem

Bassist Lisle Ellis subtitled his new release “An Homage to Jean-Michel Basquiat,” the late New York artist who combined street graffiti and a “neo-expressionist” approach to his gallery pieces in the 1980s before dying at the height of his fame in 1988. The work combines the Roman Catholic Church’s “Mass for the Dead” together with jazz improvisation and quick electronic soundscapes that link the pieces. Ellis also states in the liner notes that he took a Basquiat-esque approach to composition, overwriting some sections and removing others when it seemed appropriate.

With a band that includes Oliver Lake (saxophones), George Lewis (trombone), Mike Wofford (piano), Holly Hofmann (flutes), Pamela Z (voice, electronics) and Susie Ibarra (drums), the album has all the parts in place for a creative concept. Yet it never really catches fire due in part to the lack of cohesion or shared drive among the group. “Las Plugas,” one of the pieces where they stretch out, doesn’t sound inspired until Ellis takes an understated yet thoughtful solo. The brief pieces, some barely 60 seconds, often don’t leave enough establish a mood or create tension. Whether Ellis was trying to really evoke a connection with his subject, “57 Great Jones St. August Twelfth, Nineteen Eighty-Eight” doesn’t reflect anything about its title-Basquiat’s death date-which casts some doubt on the rest of the pieces.

Originally Published