Friday, July 25, 2014

Select Fusion Friday: The Art of the Meter

A special 80th birthday post today for a forgotten legend of music. If you know of him, you know. If you've never heard the name Don Ellis, that has to change and change right now.
One of the first -- if not the first -- to propose a molecular merger of jazz and rock into a standalone hybrid of their own, if you've ever seen either of The French Connection films you have had a primo taste of him. If you've a taste for off-kilter and funky music that is totally in a league of its own, you're gonna want to take a big bite of this CD I am putting up. No, it's not sold in stores.
He only lived to be 44 due to a severe heart condition, but even almost 40 years since he passed his music is still totally unique to him. He mined veins that no one else has ever really touched in quite the same way, and it's a shame that more people don't know his name given what he contributed to the continuum of musical innovation and progress that's taken place over our lifetimes. And, you can dance to it. Probably.
If you're like me and you're a drummer that likes to funk in strange and often alien-sounding time signatures like 11/4 and 7/8 and 9/4, there just isn't any avoiding the music and influence of Don Ellis. This man did more for odd meters in the couple of decades he was on the scene than almost anyone you can name... even the esteemed and legendary Dave Brubeck, dare I say. And unlike Brubeck, Ellis brought the contemporary and popular sounds of his time into his music, expanding the palate of the P in several important and indispensable directions in the process.
The French Connection is a case in point. Having never scored a film before and to have that be your first... I mean, this guy did just as much for wah-wah grooves in cop films as Isaac Hayes, even if he didn't get the Oscars or the acclaim of the Shaft-master. (Wow, that sounded dirty.) In addition to the proper sequel, he also scored the classic semi-sequel that preceded that one, called The Seven Ups, that had Roy Scheider instead of Gene Hackman. I'll hold on here while you fetch your official 1970s Grittily Realistic Police Drama scorecard sheet; it's difficult to tell the tough-yet-sensitive, heroically misunderstood gumshoes apart unless you've got one.
To honor this underappreciated master of meter, I have composited some of his craziest and deepest forays into funk and fusion onto one powerful plastic party platter for your perusal. I worked pretty hard on this one so enjoy it to the fullest; it's guaranteed to get your shindig up and shakin', fo' sho'. As the song goes, let's do it this way for a while!
Don Ellis
Euphoric Acid & Eros
Select Fusion

01 Couple (from 'The Deadly Tower')
02 Theme from 'The French Connection'
03 Arcturus
04 Source Cue 1 (from 'The French Connection')
05 Love for Rent
06 Whiplash
07 Eros
08 TR's Theme
09 Big Chase (from 'French Connection II')
10 Train to Get There
11 The Devil Made Me Write This Piece
12 Rehabilitation (from 'French Connection II')
13 Goodbye to Love
14 Mercy Maybe Mercy
15 Lean On Me
16 Euphoric Acid
17 Sladka Pitka
18 Desire

Total time: 1:19:02
I made sure to include a couple of really rare funk nuggets from the "isolated score" segment of the Blu-Rays -- translated from 7.1 sound to stereo -- for the two French Connection films... pieces that never made the movies but are worthy of inclusion in this set. If it's big band beats you crave and Friday funk you're feeling to get the weekend moving correctly, you'll do no better this day than this CD, intended to commemorate one of my personal musical heroes, gone too soon but never forgotten, and born July 25, 1934.  --J.

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