Ellery Eskelin


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There is a consistency to Ellery Eskelin's core trio with Jim Black and Andrea Parkins that never seems to fail. The group rarely makes a subpar album -- and this one is no different. What is different about this release, though, is that it celebrates the tenth anniversary of the group, and Eskelin invited three additional heavyweight players -- guitarist Marc Ribot, electric bassist Melvin Gibbs, and vocalist Jessica Constable -- to join the trio. While Eskelin has added guests before -- for example, on the somewhat disappointing Ramifications -- here the additional players are not simply extras, but are fully integrated into the concept of the album. (The album is subtitled "EEwAP&JB+3(10)," which appears Braxtonian but is actually an easily decipherable description of the players.) A couple of the tracks include all six players, while the others combine selected performers. Credits are not listed for each track, and it is curiously not always easy to guess who is playing, although the leader/saxophonist is the only one to play on all of them. Besides the extra musicians, the other distinguishing aspect of the album is that it is fully improvised, a concept Eskelin successfully pursued on Vanishing Point. This tenth-anniversary bonanza is disappointing only in that it does not deliver a punch commensurate with increased expectations. The stars continue to be the core trio, and especially Eskelin himself, although the extra players contribute substantially. Eskelin solos magnificently on the opening "If Not Now" and elsewhere, while Ribot's hairy guitar pummels the wildly exuberant "Ask Me Why" with Black pounding away, and "No Illusions" sounds something like Ornette Coleman's Prime Time, with the eerie voice of Constable floating above. While the vocalist is devastatingly effective on this piece, she is hit or miss on the other three tracks on which she appears, her unconventional vocalizing almost creating a new language, which -- while interesting -- is not always appealing, although that is ultimately a matter of personal taste. Ripe with potential, Ten only partially delivers, lacking the focus of Eskelin's superior works. Nonetheless, while it may not be one of Eskelin's premier recordings, it is filled with enough excitement that his admirers will find plenty to appreciate.

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