State of Mind

Dave Ellis

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State of Mind Review

by Alex Henderson

It's been said before, but it bears repeating: Not all worthwhile jazz musicians have a Manhattan address. Some improvisers acquire their skills in Chicago or Philadelphia; for others, the training ground might be Stockholm, Vienna, Brussels, or Paris. Although Dave Ellis spent some time in Boston, much of his experience has been in the San Francisco Bay Area -- and State of Mind, the tenor saxman's third album as a leader, has a strong Bay Area connection. It was recorded for a Bay Area label (Milestone/Fantasy), produced by a Bay Area resident (Orrin Keepnews), and recorded partly in Fantasy's Berkeley, CA, studio, although half of the selections were recorded in the Big Apple. What was true of Ellis' '90s albums on Monarch is also true of this 2001 session; State of Mind, like his Monarch discs, falls short of exceptional but is solid and pleasing. Ellis is quite capable of playing funky soul-jazz in the Grover Washington, Jr./Crusaders/Ronnie Laws/David Sanborn vein, but State of Mind favors a straight-ahead hard bop/post-bop format -- and that approach serves the improviser well whether he is turning his attention to John Coltrane's "Grand Central," Charlie Parker's "Barbados," or the exuberant "Sunshowers" (a lesser-known piece that was written by bassist Clint Houston and recorded by trumpeter Woody Shaw in the late '70s). The hard-swinging Ellis also embraces George Gershwin's "Summertime," which is one of those Tin Pan Alley gems that has been beaten to death over the years -- Keepnews' liner notes describe "Summertime" as a song that "might seem almost ready to be retired." But Ellis' Coltrane-ish, slightly abstract version of "Summertime" (which uses a rare, seldom heard arrangement by saxman Noel Jewkes) doesn't sound generic or common. State of Mind isn't groundbreaking, but in terms of enthusiasm, chops, and soulfulness, Ellis comes through.

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