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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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FiveFour 33



1. Variations for Trumpet

2. Scratt and Fluggs

3. Pussy Wiggle Stomp

4. K.C. Blues

5. Child of Ecstasy

6. Indian Lady


Collective personnel

Don Ellis – Trumpet

Glenn Stuart, Stu Blumberg, John Rosenberg, Bob Harmon – Trumpets, flugelhorns

Ernie Carlson, Glenn Ferris - Trombones

Don Switzer, Terry Woodson - Bass trombone

Doug Bixby, Roger Bobo - Tuba

Ira Schulman – Alto sax

Frank Strozier - Alto sax, clarinet

Ron Starr - Alto sax, soprano sax, flute, piccolo, clarinet, E-flat clarinet

Sam Falzone – Tenor sax, soprano sax, flute, clarinet

John Klemmer - Tenor sax, clarinet

John Magruder – Baritone sax, clarinet, bass clarinet

Pete Robinson - Piano, clavinet, electric piano, prepared piano

Mike Lang - Piano, clavinet, electric piano

Ray Neapolitan – Bass, Fender Bass

Dave Parlato - Bass

Ralph Humphrey - Drums

Gene Strimling - Percussion

Lee Pastora - Congas

Mark Stevens - Vibes, percussion



There have been many big bands in jazz but few were as big as Don Ellis’s mighty orchestra. He was a pioneer in this as in several other ways. He had a trumpet specially made for him with an extra valve so that he could play half-tones; he took an early interest in Indian classical music and electronics; and he enjoyed playing about with peculiar time signatures.

This CD gives a wide representation of the wide variety of material that Don’s band could achieve. It opens with a long series of Variations which is almost classical in style and is virtually a one-movement concerto. It is a tour de force, featuring Ellis’s trumpet and displaying the wide range of effects that he could produce on the instrument, without any loss of feeling. He even plays duets with himself, probably with electronic assistance. The piece passes through several different tempo changes, including 9/4 and 32/8.

Scratt and Fluggs is almost diametrically different: a parodic piece which sends up the country-and-western music typified by country duo Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. It is in 5/4 time and includes the band howling and whooping along in true countrified bar-room manner.

Pussy Wiggle Stomp is another light-hearted piece – set in the unusual time signature of 7/4, with handclaps emphasizing the beat. Here as elsewhere, the arrangements are witty and ingenious, using the multiple resources of the orchestra and avoiding the clichés of much big-band music. There are several breaks which mislead the listener into thinking the tune is over before it has finished (the sleeve-note counts 47 false endings!).

Charlie Parker’s K.C. Blues is the only number on the album not written by Don Ellis. It begins with an unaccompanied alto-sax solo by Frank Strozier which continues when the band enters. Child of Ecstasy is a contrapuntal piece featuring trumpeter Glenn Stuart which makes one wonder if there is more than one meaning here for “ecstasy”.

The album ends with John Klemmer and Sam Falzone’s tenor saxes duelling, electronically enhanced. As the trombone growls lustily and makes rude noises, the tune descends into a morass of sound which eventually clears to make way for a percussion duet.

Tracks 4 and 6 were recorded live at Stanford University, capturing the enthusiasm of the audience, but most of the album is recorded with scintillating clarity – not an easy thing to do with such a large ensemble.

Tony Augarde


Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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