Don Ellis - The New Don Ellis Band Goes Underground (1969)
While this album may be one of Don's more commercial efforts, it also shows a willingness to absorb a variety of styles and reinterpret them in the jazz idiom. This album has Ellis covering songs from the counterculture (which some may say Ellis is part of anyhow), the singer-songwriter movement, and R&B, but Ellis also writes his own material in these styles. The album opens with "House in the Country" an Al Kooper (who consequently produced the album) composition from the Blood, Sweat & Tears album Child is Father to the Man (1968), which albeit true to the original has the Ellis eccentricity of using his electronic sounds at the beginning and close of the track and during breaks in the melody. The following track is a cover of Harry Nilsson's "Don't Leave Me" originally on Aerial Ballet (1968). This tune is essentially an expanded transcription of the original with Ellis liberally interpreting the melody and "jazzing" up the rhythmic accompaniment in the ensemble sections. While Ellis does not change much, his solo over the chorus adds a lot to the song and proves that while this may not be "high jazz material," it is worthy of interpretation of a jazz artist. "Higher" is the first of four tracks to feature the vocals of Patti Austin, an addition to the band during this period of Elli's band. This is one of the weaker tracks on the album in my opinion, with Ellis's ring modulator trumpet one of the only notable sections of the track. The following track "Bulgarian Bulge" is based on a transcription of a Bulgarian folk melody (a music known for its odd time signatures) and was recorded later on Tears of Joy. The latter recording is superior to this one in my opinion, due to the fact that the band was probably more familiar with the tune and consequently able to be more rhythmically free in their solos rather than conforming to how the beats were broken up (it's in 33/16 (2+2+2+2+3+2+2; 2+2+2+3+2+3+2+2)). "Eli's Comin'," a Laura Nyro composition, is in the same modus operandi as Nilsson's in that the track is an expanded transcription. This is probably the strongest cover tune, because while it is a transcription Ellis does a lot with the transitions from section to section and explores a variety of rhythmic feels. This tune was in the repertoire of a few bands at the time, with Maynard Ferguson having recorded it on M.F. Horn in 1967. The following track "Acoustical Lass" is one of the more interesting tunes as it seems that Ellis tried to write a pseudo-psychedelic pop tune that featured his trumpet. The tune is very sparse with only the leader on trumpet and electric piano and guitar as accompaniment, which gives the track a spacey, surreal sound. "Goood Feelin'" is Ellis' attempt to write a quasi-R&B tune, which in my opinion succeeds. The ostinato in the low brass sets the foundation in which all the other grooves are layered on top of. There is a sort of baroque pop section after an energetic solo featuring oboes and flutes, which is then developed until it the mood changes to a cheesy 20s "sweet" jazz feel. "Goood Feelin'" is notable if only for the variety of styles Ellis uses and the transitions which don't seem at all unnatural. "Send My Baby Back" is probably the strongest vocal on the album, but it shouldn't be remembered for its lyrics which consist of too many "yeahs" towards the close track. The strength in the song is the contrast in the vocal line for the verse and chorus, as well as the ensemble parts (the trumpet section entrances always give me chills). "Love for Rent," a Fred Selden contribution, is a sort of work-in-progress in my opinion, as the tune is later used as a section to his "Euphoric Acid" track on Tears of Joy. However, the tune has a great section featuring an Ellis solo on trumpet with an echoplex effect. "It's Your Thing" is mostly a straight-ahead cover, however, it's a bit humorous when you listen to the quarter-tones in some of the ensemble backgrounds of the song. "Ferris Wheel" is a great blues solo vehicle for trombonist Glenn Ferris. More than most of Ellis' band, Ferris uses quarter-tones to great effect and the backgrounds incorporate this same tonal effect. This track is also notable for the octavizers used in the sax section that make the section sound an octave lower in addition to the note they are playing. "Black Baby" was a late addition to the album and was an idea of Patti Austin's. While I don't find it one of the more memorable tracks on the album, it is a great track for listening to Ellis' conception of unaccompanied soloing in a blues style (especially the blue notes he hits using his quarter-tonal valve).