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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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The New Don Ellis Band Goes
Underground / Don Ellis at Fillmore





The New Don Ellis Band Goes Underground

1. House In The Country

2. Don't Leave Me

3. Higher

4. Bulgarian Bulge

5. Eli's Comin'

6. Acoustical Lass

7. Good Feelin'

8. Send My Baby Back

9. Love For Rent

10. It's Your Thing

11. Ferris Wheel

12. Black Baby

Don Ellis - Quarter-tone trumpet, electrophonic trumpet, ring modulator, flugelhorn

Glenn Stuart, Stu Blumberg, John Rosenberg, Jack Coan - Trumpet, flugelhorn, quarter-tone trumpet

Jock Ellis, Glenn Ferris, George Bohanon – Trombone

Dana Hughes - Bass trombone

Doug Bixby – Tuba

Fred Selden - Alto sax, soprano sax, flute, clarinet

Lonnie Shetter - Alto sax, soprano sax, clarinet, flute, oboe

Sam Falzone - Tenor sax, clarinet, flute

Hadley Caliman, John Klemmer - Tenor sax, flute

Jon Clarke - Baritone sax, clarinet

Mike Altschul - Baritone sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute

Pete Robinson - Piano, Fender Rhodes piano, ring modulator, clavinet, harpsichord

Jay Graydon – Guitar

Joe Julian, Carol Kaye, Gary Todd – Bass

Ralph Humphrey, Rick Quintinal - Drums, vibes, percussion

Lee Pastora - Conga, bongoes, shaker, cowbells

Gene Strimling – Percussion

Patti Allen – Vocals

Don Ellis at Fillmore

1. Final Analysis

2. Excursion II

3. The Magic Bus Ate My Doughnut


1. The Blues

2. Salvatore Sam

3. Rock Odyssey

4. Hey Jude

5. Antea

6. Old Man’s Tear

7. Great Divide

8. Pussy Wiggle Stomp

Don Ellis – Trumpet, drums

Glenn Stuart, Stu Blumberg, John Rosenberg, Jack Coan – Trumpet

Ernie Carlson, Glenn Ferris – Trombone

Don Switzer – Bass trombone

Doug Bixby – Contrabass, tuba

Fred Selden, Lonnie Shetter, Sam Falzone, John Klemmer, Jon Clarke – Saxes, woodwinds

Jay Graydon – Guitar

Tom Garvin – Piano

Dennis Parker – Bass

Ralph Humphrey – Drums

Lee Pastora – Conga

Ron Dunn – Percussion, drums


This double CD contains two LPs – a studio recording from 1969 and a live performance from 1970. Both are by the big band which trumpeter Don Ellis led – and when I say big band, I mean it. There are around 30 performers on the first album and 20 on the second. The Ellis band was renowned not only for its unusual time-signatures but also for producing the loudest sound that a big band could manage. Both albums are unusual mixtures of adventurous innovation and unbearable noise.

The New Don Ellis Band Goes Underground is a mixture of originals composed by Don Ellis and arrangements of tunes that were then popular in the rock and pop environments. You can tell you are in for something strange right from the start of the first number, where the sound of clangorous gongs is produced by a ring-modulator. Al Kooper’s jaunty theme lasts for less than three minutes.

Harry Nilsson’s Don’t Leave Me begins gently but soon Don’s stratospheric trumpet soars above a mass of sound from the orchestra. The first two tracks have background vocals supplied by the Blossoms, but vocalist Patti Allen is featured in Higher singing a tuneless vocal which turns into a screech.

Based on a Bulgarian folk-song, Bulgarian Bulge has the feeling of klezmer music, with chattering clarinet, trombone and Ellis’s trumpet. As Don Ellis liked, the tune has an unusual time-signature, varying between 33/16 and 36/16. Laura Nyro’s Eli’s Comin’ gets the complete big-band treatment in jazz-fusion style. Acoustical Lass reveals a quieter side of Don Ellis as he plays a plaintive ballad on the flugelhorn. Good Feelin’ has a Latinesque rhythm, Don’s abrasive bent-note trumpet, and Jay Graydon’s rocky electric guitar. The orchestra goes briefly into an ironical version of Bye Bye Blues, illustrating Don’s taste for humour in music. Send My Baby Back and It’s Your Thing have slightly less painful vocals from Patti Allen, although she still shouts rather than sings.

Love For Rent is a slice of forceful jazz-funk composed by reedman Fred Selden. Don Ellis interrupts the funk flow with some strange noises produced by echoplex through his trumpet. Ferris Wheel is a slow Don Ellis feature for trombonist Glenn Ferris, who demonstrates a variety of sounds from the trombone. The final Black Baby has lyrics spoken by Patti Allen but its main appeal is in Ellis’s poignant trumpet.

Don Ellis at Fillmore was recorded at Bill Graham’s Fillmore West, a venue where rock fans were increasingly exposed to different types of music. They were obviously captivated by the psychedelic sounds of the Ellis Orchestra and its espousal of rock rhythms. Don tries to appeal to them with some loud and often rabble-rousing music – as in several of Don’s high-pitched solos and John Klemmer’s vigorous tenor-sax solo on Excursion II. Klemmer’s solo increases in intensity, with assertive brass punching the air. Final Analysis teases the audience with several bombastic false endings. Fred Selden’s The Magic Bus Ate My Doughnut has a tempo which switches between 3/4, 4/4 and 5/4, reinforced by a persistent riff.

The Fillmore concert continues on the second CD. Don Ellis starts The Blues by showing off the number of effects he can gain from the trumpet, although the result sounds like a nightmare farmyard. Salvatore Sam has the band in full-power mode, with a shrieking tenor solo going into double time, before everything goes quiet for a while – but the peace is destroyed by the tenor and orchestra going wildly over the top. The same sort of thing happens in Rock Odyssey, which starts with restraint but turns into jazz-rock which gets louder and louder.

The Beatles’ Hey Jude begins with unsettling trumpet-generated noises which sound like someone blowing vigorously into a water pipe. Only after about three minutes does the melody appear, although it is obscured by more discordant noises. It may be the band’s attempt at humour but it is not very appealing. Antea (in 7/4 time) is lifted by the stimulating percussion.

Don’s sleeve-notes describe John Klemmer’s Old Man’s Tear as “a musical portrait of an old man’s life”. It brings out the poetic side of Ellis and his trumpet, although his ear-splitting cadenza tries a little bit too hard. Great Divide swings along smoothly, even though it is in 13/4, divided into 3-3-2, 3-2. Lonnie Shetter contributes a rousing alto sax solo, backed only by percussion or even unaccompanied. Don’s composition Pussy Wiggle Stomp is the encore demanded by the eager audience. It includes a mighty but over-long drum feature with Ellis, Humphrey and Dunn all percussing like mad.

This album is a mix of impressively intrepid big-band jazz and some bizarre sections which fail to impress.

Tony Augarde



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