Vol. 3, Issue #10 June 6th - June 19th, 2008

CD Reviews: John Ellis & Double-Wide / Nathaneil Mayer
By: Dave Bond

John Ellis & Double-Wide: Dance Like There's No Tomorrow (Hyena Records)

Jazz, as an art form, is constantly looking for another prophet, always searching for that next leader who will continue developing the traditions passed down by those who came before and meld them with the new sounds of the current time and place in which they live. The saxophonist John Ellis is such a figure, and this, his new album, is yet more proof. Having spent a number of years backing up eight-string-guitar maestro Charlie Hunter, Ellis is now focused on working and recording with his own group, and has consistently turned out challenging albums that mix the most potent jazz styles with new ideas from the here and now.

On his previous records, Ellis has efficiently brought together elements of Blue Note hard bop, the avant garde, and Headhunters-style funk. He has also blended in the sounds of native New Orleans jazz, and does so again to even greater effect on this album by substituting Matt Perrine’s sousaphone for a regular acoustic or electric bass. When you add in the lively drumming of Jason Marsalis and the spicy keyboard work of Gary Versace, the result is a zestful, vibrant sound that both stimulates the senses and stretches the mind. Without a doubt, Ellis is one of a select few who currently make up the vanguard of jazz, and once again, he has put out a record that cannot be ignored.

Nathaniel Mayer: Why Don't You Give It To Me? (Alive Records)

At its origin point, rhythm-&-blues -- or “soul” music -- is merely a natural extension of the blues themselves. (Just listening to early Ray Charles, Otis Redding or Aretha Franklin is evidence enough that this is accurate.) Over time, however, like most genres of music, R&B has become just another watered-down offshoot of pop music. It will take more records like this one from Nathaniel Mayer to remind people of R&B’s natural roots. This music comes from a place that is more raw, nasty and authentic than most anything else labeled “R&B” these days, making it that much more valuable.

Mayer, a local soul legend in Detroit, has, alas, recorded only sporadically over the years, and while his past albums have been good, they could be seen as simply the Motown sound made grungy. This album, however, is something more. In the 1960s, young blues punks of the day such as Eric Clapton, Mike Bloomfield, and the Rolling Stones teamed up with Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf to enliven the music of those giants and create something new for the younger generation to connect with. In the same way, on this album Mayer is backed by some of the young guns of the thriving Rust Belt music scene who’ve been mixing the blues and garage rock into a new, exciting sound. They include Matthew Smith, who also recently backed the late, idiosyncratic bluesman Paul “Wine” Jones on his final album, as well as Dan Auerbach of the phenomenal Black Keys. The resulting album is rough, ragged, and funky and may require repeated spins before the listener can acclimate. But even beyond that, it is a noteworthy step in the development of genuinely soulful music. Mayer, Smith and Auerbach are fighting to help this music survive, and their efforts are worthy of acclaim.

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