Quick Listen ~~ John Ellis “One Foot In The Swamp”

I’ve owned this album for a while, but until now had never given it a full listen through. I was prompted to do so after reading the argument that is standing between Chris Kelsey, Graham Collier and David Adler concerning certain qualifications of music. One thing in particular that Kelsey is getting heat for is writing off John Ellis’ album Roots, Branches and Leaves as just another “neo-bop record”. I have always had an ambivalent opinion of Ellis, so I decided to give One Foot in the Swamp (Ellis’ next release after Roots, Branches and Leaves) a good listen through. My ambivalance still stands. While I respect Ellis for his desire to push this music forward compositionally, much of his music (and musical choices) remains extremely choppy and inconsistent. “Work In Progress” is a good example of this: each of the many different sections move to and from each other without much of an audible connection, and the transitions often sound extremely abrupt and unrehearsed. In addition, Ellis’ desire to combine as many different influences into one record becomes an information overload. The best tracks end up being the ones where he avoids all the superfluous electronics and effects and drastic mood changes. This goes for the compositions too: the most memorable remain the simplest, country-based themes (“Sippin’ Cider”, “Happy”, “One For the Kelpers”) where Ellis avoids becoming too self indulgent. When done listening to the recording one cannot deny that Ellis has a lot to offer, but the way he expresses himself makes you think he might even have too much. Knowing that each of his albums is an exercise on a different theme with a completely different band and instrumentation illustrates a musician who is lost in modernity. Perhaps once he settles down into a specific niche and works on developing it will we really see his potential realized .

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