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John Ellis: By a Thread

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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.

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