Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"Brooklyn-based saxophonist John Ellis is a player who, whenever he puts his horn in his mouth, makes it seem like retro-modern is the only show in town. His style is part classic soul and funk, part modern jam band groove and part freewheeling improvisation. He has a particular affinity with New Orleans roots music and also references non-American folk and popular styles. He has a hipster sense of humor and an itch to experiment. It's a spellbinding combination and is mixed to perfection on Puppet Mischief, Ellis' second album with Double-Wide.
Ellis made his first album as leader in 1996 but it wasn't until he joinedCharlie Hunter's band that he began to attract sustained attention; Tales From The Analog Playground (Blue Note, 2002) was the first of four discs he made with the guitarist. Between 2002 and 2006, before forming Double-Wide, Ellis recorded four more albums as leader. Recent sideman credits include his participation in the series of psychotropic jams keyboard player Marco Benevento collected on the DVD Live In NYC: The Sullivan Hall Residency(The Royal Potato Family, 2009).
Double-Wide's first album was Dance Like There's No Tomorrow (Hyena, 2008), grounded in New Orleans funk and conceived as a tribute to the people of the post-Katrina city. The quartet also included sousaphone player Matt Perrine and drummer Jason Marsalis, both present on Puppet Mischief, and organist Gary Versace. Brian Coogan replaces Versace on the new album, which also features two "guest members," harmonica playerGregoire Maret and trombonist Alan Ferber.
Puppet Mischief starts out where Dance Like There's No Tomorrow left off, in the streets of New Orleans, with "Okra & Tomatoes" and "Fauxfessor." It ends there too, with the sanctified funk of "This Too Shall Pass." But in between, Ellis scopes wider, channelling Nino Rota soundtracks for film director Federico Fellini, French folk music and flamenco, bringing an elusive, madcap, Mediterranean flavor to tracks such as "Carousel," "Dubinland Carnival," and "Heroes De Accion."
Ellis makes good use of Double-Wide's expanded lineup, which significantly increases the range of the frontline and also adds two absorbing new soloists to the line-up. Maret has a flowing lyricism not unlike that of guitarist Pat Metheny (with whom he's worked), and also, on occasion, takes the harmonica into uncharted territory. His broken-note strewn solo on the title track is magnificent. Trombonist Ferber, a tailgate adept with a libidinous wah-wah mute, also extends the tradition. His visceral solo on "Carousel" contains some engaging new sonorities. Ellis himself is a joy throughout, and his supremely soulful solo on the closing "This Too Shall Pass" lingers long after the disc has stopped spinning." -AllAboutJazz
Down Beat (p.58) - 4.5 stars out of 5 -- "Ultimately, each artist handles his own part with such individuality that you can almost see the characters develop within the changes..."
JazzTimes (p.66) - "The resulting sound is both festive and progressive, with plenty of loose-limbed rhythms and tight, focused soloing."
Billboard - "Every track shines, with particular plaudits for the carny-esque opener 'Okra & Tomatoes,' the-horn quartet beauty of 'Chorale'...and the most playful of the collection, 'Dublinland Carnival'..."
Personnel: John Ellis (bass clarinet, tenor saxophone); Grégoire Maret (harmonica); Alan Ferber (trombone); Matt Perrine (sousaphone); Brian Coogan (organ); Jason Marsalis (drums).
Photographer: Michael Weintrob.
On his sixth album, and second with the Double-Wide quartet, saxophonist John Ellis channels New Orleans via his New York base, although the album is really true to his inspiration of fun fairs and clowns, since it takes off on odd tangents at times, as on "Dubinland Carnival," which has a decidedly woozy edge to the sound, verging on the surreal. The sousaphone bass of Matt Perrine features heavily throughout, as does the harmonica work of guest Gregoire Maret. Ellis himself contributes tenor and bass clarinet, and there's a definite tightness to the group, more apparent than on their last disc. The tunes, all by Ellis, are very playful, adding odd little quotes to the music, then jarring off into the unfamiliar, and taking strange, circuitous routes back. But the scenic way works here, adding to the unusual atmosphere of the disc. It's one to satisfy fans of the band, and brings something a little different to modern jazz while still referring back to its roots. ~ Chris Nickson