Don Ellis

Connection

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Don Ellis' Connection, issued in 1972, was a brazen attempt at swinging for the chart fences. Most of the tunes selected come right from the pop vernacular of the day. They range from a barnburning read of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's theme for "Jesus Christ Superstar" and a dirty funk approach to Carole King's "I Feel the Earth Move" to a provocative and spacy cover of Procol Harum's "Conquistador" that feels like the horn chart for Chicago's "25 or 6 to 4" wedded to Mason Williams' "Classical Gas" trumped by Stan Kenton in the mid-'50s. While the description may read atrociously, sonically and aesthetically the set comes off far better. Ellis incorporated inventive, in-your-face, swaggering arrangements into his hearing and execution of pop's possibilities in the jazz world of the early '70s. Most of the tracks are short, with only a big-band freakout read of Hank Levy's "Chain Reaction" going over the five-minute mark. This, along with the disc's opener (a fine cover of Joe Sample's "Put It Where You Want It") and Ellis' own "Theme from The French Connection" (a surprise hit for him) work well as modern creative big band offerings. There are some really embarrassing moments here as well. Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Alone Again (Naturally)" was utterly unnecessary and is pure schlock; likewise the "jazz on Quaaludes" take on the Carpenters' "Goodbye to Love." "Lean On Me" (the soul classic written by Bill Withers) is simply surreal, as is the cover of Yes' "Roundabout." Ellis devotees will no doubt delight in Connection because of its abundance of sass, humor, and imagination, while jazz purists will shake their heads in disgust and others will greet the album with mix of curious bewilderment, a good-natured (hopefully) chuckle, and a perverse kind of glee.

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