From The Vaults

Posted: May 26, 2011 in From The Vaults
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Brian Ellis : ‘Free Way’ (Benbecula)

Brian Ellis is guitarist for San Diegan Prog heroes Astra, but he also creates mind-bending Jazz/Prog/Electronic sounds on his own too.  He’s a multi-instrumentalist, and by that I mean he can play over 15 instruments, and runs his own recording studio.  He has a new album out via Parallax Sounds entitled ‘Quipu’, which I have on order from Norman Records and am eagerly awaiting.  Below is a review I wrote for his ‘Free Way’ Release, which was issued by the now defunct and much-missed Scottish label Benbecula.  Please be sure to check this fabulous interview too, which Sound Colour Vibration recently conducted with Brian concerning his new record amongst a host of other topics — it makes for very interesting reading

Part of Benbecula Records innovative, monthly Minerals Series, “Free Way” acts as a pre-cursor to Brian Ellis’ first album proper, “The Silver Creature” (due out on August 6th). This effort, however, focuses on the more experimental aspects of Ellis’ electonica-fused jazz sound. From Soft Machine to Supersilent, Sun Ra to Squarepusher the San Diego-based musician has channelled the energies of jazz musicians old and new, to provide this startling seven track album. Where as certain albums in this field tend to veer into self-indulgent territories or, in the case of The Cinematic Orchestra, choose a bland and pedestrian route, “Free Way” oozes pioneering qualities from start to finish. Ellis proves himself to be one daring musician, here.

“Escondido” builds from reverbed tribal drum patterns and, what can only be described as, discordant banjo sounds into a juggernauting groove that literally rattles the floorboards. Drums are pounded relentlessly as manic saxophone screams to be heard over them. It may seem totally anarchic to the casual listener, but jazz-heads will appreciate the intense nature of the rhythms and the pulsing textures. Ellis, meanwhile, imposes some space-age sounds over a tightly woven beat and throbbing bass line, on the futuristic-sounding “Sewer Bugler”, before some uncompromising guitar work takes over and sends it spiralling off in all sorts of weird and wonderful tangents. But perhaps, the stand-out track is the sprawling “The New Free Way”, 12 minutes worth of acid-soaked guitar, rich bass and complex time signatures. Ellis adeptly mixes each element into one hypnotic and satisfying groove.

As a multi-instrumentalist (Ellis can play over 15 instruments, including the obscure Kalimba) “Free Way”, at times, sounds as if it was performed by full-blown jazz ensemble, rather than one man. But with exquisite attention to detail and complex time signatures executed expertly, this record blows away most of its competition. A formidable release, music can’t get any cooler than this.


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