Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Don Ellis - Tears of Joy (1971)

In many regards, Tears of Joy may be Don Ellis' magnum opus of his entire career. The incorporation of string instruments adds a lot to his vast exploration of styles, tones, and colors that make this album a real treat to listen to.  John Hammond at Columbia wondered why Ellis would forsake a successful lineup that began with 1967's Electric Bath. Simply, it seems that Ellis just wanted to experiment and continue to innovate as he had in his early years. Tears of Joy backs off a little on the use of unusual time signatures and some of the heavy use of electronics that was present in previous albums, but continue to amaze the listener of how he can write for an ensemble as well as delving further into quarter tonal improvisation. However, "Tears of Joy" still has Ellis using a ring modulator to layer frequencies and "Bulgarian Bulge" in 33/16 and 35/16, shows that he never intended on abandoning what made his music. There are great "tongue-in-cheek" laughs to be had listening to the track "Blues in Elf" an 11/8 (3 3 3 2) blues that opens with a transposed Moonlight Sonata by Milcho Leviev. A personal favorite on the album is the track "Quiet Longing" due to its exploration into light orchestration as it opens and the tone colors that present an intensely emotional piece. "Quiet Longing" is a perfect example of how the string quartet really opened possibilities for Ellis as a writer. Another personal favorite, "Loss" seems to have a similar sound quality to some Asian music in the string parts. The sound quality remind me a lot of the sound of the kokyu, a Japanese bowed instrument. The real masterpiece of the album and Ellis' career is undoubtedly the track "Strawberry Soup." The track opens with the strings and winds improvising. It's important to note that they are improvising, because to the listener it will sound like it is what is written. The rhythmic superimposition of 9 is quite remarkable; 9/2, 9/4, and 9/8 are overlapping rhythmic ideas that often interlock so well, one might not realize this feat. The sheer amount of moods and voicings used in this track in unbelievable. There is the interplay of strings and woodwinds in the beginnings, the transition to the full ensemble aided by a French Horn, and the numerous solos in the seventeen and a half minute piece that show how mature of a writer Don Ellis was for his time. I often think this is the furthest that "big band" jazz has come in its entire history. Sure, there are many writers of today that are experimenting and writing good original material, but they don't have the worldly view and the vast concept of music that Don Ellis had.



  2. Loved this Album since it came out in the early 70's and continue to love it in cd incarnation even though the transfer leaves a lot to be desired. Looking forward to a high resolution release of this from the likes of hdtracks.

    Saw this configuration of the Don Ellis Big Band at the Great American Music Hall in 1975ish. Wow nobody makes music like this then or now!