© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Don Ellis is often associated with Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, and Cecil Taylor as a proponent of the avant-garde jazz of the late 1950s and early 1960s, However, he generally avoided a radical free-form style, seeking instead to infuse traditional big-band styles with novel or exotic influences, particularly in his use from 1964 of Indian and Near Eastern rhythms. Because he sometimes employed serial and aleatory procedures in his earlier style he has also been identified with the third stream movement; later he renounced these approaches.
Ellis's significance to jazz composition lies in his pioneering use of various techniques and resources: complex meters, the electronic distortion of timbre, amplified trumpet, and the human voice used instrumentally. Perhaps his most important contribution was the use of quarter-tone melodic structures, particularly his invention of a 12-pitch quarter-tone scale for notating blues-type melodic variants. In 1975 Ellis consolidated his experience in this area in the textbook Quarter Tones, just as he had earlier brought together his rhythmic experience in The New Rhythm Book.
As a trumpet player Ellis possessed an agile technique and a fine tone. Influenced by Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro, and Clark Terry, he evolved a personal, innovative style, often applying electric amplification and ring-modulated modification to the timbre of the instrument. From 1965 he showed an interest in alternative tuning systems - partly as a result of his interest in the music of Harry Partch - and acquired a quarter-tone trumpet which allowed him to achieve a new subtlety of expression, particularly in traditional blues passage-work.”
- Robert Dickrow, in Barry Kernfeld,Ed., The New Groove Dictionary of Jazz.
As I noted in the introductions to Parts 2 and 3 of the features on the evolution of the Don Ellis orchestra, because Don Ellis [1934-1978] is almost a forgotten figure forty years after his death in 1978, many of his recordings were out of print.
But given Ellis significance as a musician, BGO, a redoubtable UK reissue label, aimed to rectify what is a profoundly disappointing situation by offering twofers combining six of Don’s most significant albums:
 Don Ellis at The Fillmore/Don Ellis Goes Underground
[BGO CD 1143]
 Tears of Joy/Connection
[BGO CD 1317]
 Shock Treatment/Autumn
[BGO CD 1333]
Each of these two-fers contains a wealth of information in the booklets that accompany them comprised of remarks by Don himself and Jazz critics which formed the liner notes to the original LPs, as well as, by noted authorities on the historical significance of Don, his band and his music.
Combining it all into one feature would be overwhelming for the reader.
So the editorial staff at JazzProfiles has decided to take each of these two-fers and make then into separate features - Parts 2,3 and 4 - of “The Evolution of the Don Ellis Orchestra.”
Part 2 focused on  Don Ellis at The Fillmore/Don Ellis Goes Underground [BGO CD 1143]
Part 3 focused in  Tears of Joy/Connection [BGO CD 1317]
Part 4 continues by reviewing in detail the third BGO two-fer Shock Treatment/Autumn [BGO CD 1333] and sharing the annotations contained in the accompanying booklet.
Digby Deal who wrote the following notes for the release of Shock Treatment on CBS Records in 1968 was at the time, the West Coast editor of EYE magazine and a freelance contributor to both The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.
“ANTONIN ARTAUD (1896-1948), creator of "Theatre of Cruelty", describes in a startling passage from his memoirs the strange sensation of therapeutic electric shock treatment experienced as a patient in a French insane asylum. At the moment when current surged through his body strapped upon a table, Artaud recalls his psychological release to a whole new orientation toward his existence, as though his point of view was fixed at a spot in the ceiling looking down at himself. This new way of perceiving reality became a poetic, as well as philosophical, insight to Artaud, and his elaborations of this new orientation produced revolutionary echoes throughout the world of theatre.
With Don Ellis, the mode is also electrical - strictly through amplifiers - and, musically speaking, his sonic shock treatment is a whole new way of looking at (and listening to) things. But the rhythmic and harmonic innovations of Don's 21-piece orchestra are far from being a jazz "Theatre of Cruelty".
What he's got, if you can believe his enthusiastic following, is an Aural
Garden of Earthly Delights. In this album, Don has found his groove in a recording studio, and he transmits that in-person spark with assurance. The band has moved out of the happy confines of jazz clubs in recent dates and into the gyrating scene of rock 'n' roll ballrooms. At the Cheetah, the Kaleidoscope, or the Carousel, kids are dancing frantically under stroboscopic lights to the big electric sounds of a jazz orchestra. Only get this: They're dancing in 7/4! It's like a sociologist's dream come true to see a big band back on the site of the Moulin Rouge (Kaleidoscope) or the Aragon (Cheetah), where the sons and daughters of Depression Era parents are re-enacting those scenes from Horace McCoy's "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"
While Simon and Garfunkel were in listening to the recording session for SHOCK TREATMENT, Paul Simon remarked that one reason the Don Ellis band is gaining popularity with the young audiences is that, like the best rock groups, the Ellis band is speaking out with a musically individual voice. Nat Hentoff once said the same thing when he commented that "Don Ellis is beyond category". It seems strange to recall that just a few years ago, Don was considered some kind of a Third Stream weirdo, playing crazy tempos no one could comprehend with his Hindustani Jazz Sextet. Now the experimentalism and individualism has paid off. Not only has the orchestra succeeded on its own terms, but it has been embraced by the modern music scene (for example, recently Don played on "rock-group" recording dates for both the United States of America and the Mothers of Invention). "Music, like any art, hits you on an emotional level before you dissect it analytically," says Don. "A lot of people relate to the 'sense of life' in our music. I just see it as a new way of swinging."
A new way of swinging, indeed. Take the science fiction sounds of 'Star Children', for example. The distant moon music murmurings of the chorus, singing in shifting tempos, provide a unique setting for Don's trumpet which breaks over the low rumble of brasses. The use of choral elements is a page out of Penderecki and Ray Bradbury, both at the same time. The saxophone section can also be heard playing in octaves with themselves by means of a special electronic device called the Conn Multivider which adds an octave below to their soli lines.
Probably the most obviously experimental composition in this album is ‘The Tihai', inspired by Don's association with Harihar Rao, Ravi Shankar's long time musical colleague. The title is an Indian word which describes a thrice-repeated phrase, rhythmically played in a manner completing the last note of the phrase on the first beat of a new measure (in this case, the phrase which can be heard particularly in the trumpets behind the tenor solo is played over four bars of 7/4). When you've figured that one out, listen closely to the finger-snapping at the opening of the album: although the 7/4 is divided 2-3-2, the snapping accents 2, 3-1/2, 5 and 7. The chanting in the middle of this tune is Don and the band repeating the tihai, utilizing Hindu phrases known as "boles" to articulate the drum rhythms.
But fun-and-games with counting aside, ‘The Tihai' generates a terrific series of musical cross-currents which explode most impressively in the wailing solo work on this cut. Ron Starr on tenor leaps out for the first angular flight in the midst of the rhythmic polyphony and is followed by Mike Lang on piano who plays boogie-woogie phrases against a jagged Latin line in the left hand and comes out swinging. Don complements his work on wa-wa mute throughout this tune with an open trumpet solo which climbs to a shrieking, siren-like climax.
One of Don's finest solo outings, however, is on 'Homecoming', a soulful blues in 3/4, with a little help from his friends on flugelhorns. Ron Starr roars in with genuine ease on the Hank Levy composition 'A New Kind Of Country' and tears up that 7/4 (divided in a fast 2-2-3) beautifully right through to his brief cadenza passage at the end. Here, too, the orchestra demonstrates its facility with ensemble work in unusual time signatures even at up-tempo.
'Mile's Theme' represents a real innovation for the band: a tune in 4/4. ("That's 5/4 minus one," as Don explains it.) The electronic voicing in this particular piece lends that outer space quality to the flutes being played through amplifiers with both reverb and tremolo against Mike Lang's clavinet. After what sounds like a bow in the direction of Claude Thornhill in the arranging, Don plunges into an eerie trumpet solo played first through the Conn Multivider, then with loop delay, and finally an overdub of open trumpet softly in the background, creating a gossamer web of solo sound.
John Magruder's 'Zim', featuring the composer on baritone sax, is written in 13 (3-3-2 2-3) and is a neat juxtaposition of melodic and rhythmic structure. The brass hit some especially effective rhythmic accent figures in this one.
'Beat Me, Daddy, Seven To The Bar' (divided 3-2-2) opens with a cooking trumpet introduction by Don, which builds to rocking ensemble work. John Magruder on baritone, Mike Lang on piano and Ron Starr on tenor all have some healthy solo space, but the crowning bit on this composition (and one of the best moments on the album) is a drum duet between Steve Bohannon with sticks and Chino Valdes on conga and bongos. They begin by trading fours, then twos, then half bars.
As if to top off a perfect session, the band recorded 'Opus 5' in an unheard of single take. Deciding they liked it exactly this way, as well they should, they left it without a change. The composer of 'Opus 5', Howlett Smith, is a blind pianist who was in Don's UCLA extension course in arranging. And, to add another first, this impressive piece, enhanced particularly by solo passages from Mike Lang and Don, is Mr. Smith's first big band arrangement.
All in all, this album is a welcome step forward for the Don Ellis orchestra and a collection of music worth careful contemporary scrutiny. As mentioned on Electric Bath, this is the best sound modern music has to offer and a welcome revitalizing of a jazz genre. Lovers of the big band sound have suffered for a long time with the Lombardo-Welk schlock treatment; it's high time we had some SHOCK TREATMENT.”
- Digby Diehl, 1968
Al Kooper served as the producer for Autumn and wrote these liner notes for the original LP which was released on CBS in 1968.
“I REMEMBER the day that Clive Davis, President of CBS Records, brought Don Ellis into my office. I owned both his LPs, Electric Bath (63230} and Shock Treatment (63356), and might be considered a fan by anyone's standards. I remember when I was in Blood, Sweat and Tears and I brought Electric Bath to a rehearsal and played it for everyone. I remember noting with flattery the way our albums were often reviewed together and we were called bands moving in the same general direction. But most of all, I remember seeing the Don Ellis band perform for the first time.
The day after I met Don, I journeyed with him in the band bus to Tanglewood where the band was sharing the bill with the Modern Jazz Quartet and Judy Collins. During the five-hour bus trip we talked of many things. I learned about Don's fierce dedication to his music, his concepts and his plans for a forthcoming album. We arrived at Tanglewood and I was surprised to see that Don was closing the show. He was in pretty heavy company and yet no one objected or thought twice about it. I found out why the moment they walked on stage. The band is outfitted by a local (LA) hip clothing store and they all wear velvet-satin puff-sleeve affairs with white turtlenecks beneath. To see them alone is an experience. To hear them... well, words cannot describe blah blah blah... I was so impressed with that evening's performance and the standing ovation and the two encores that I swore that the band must be recorded live at some time in the near future. The band was to leave for Europe the next day, and Don and I made plans to record a new album when they returned.
Upon returning from Europe the band was booked into Boston and then into Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. I was to meet Don and record the band live at Stanford. Don came out a day early to check facilities, etc., and was quite shaken. They had had to cancel the Boston gig because their instruments had not yet arrived from Europe. Frantic calls were made all that day, and I believe they arrived scant hours ahead of the concert. We had our recording equipment ready to go and I was a little frightened myself. The result of this hang-up was that most of the musicians were dying to play, itching to get a hold of their instruments which had been denied them for almost a week. The result of this set of circumstances are 'Indian Lady' and 'K.C. Blues'.
On 'K.C. Blues' Frank Strozier is heard on alto introducing the tune and playing the open choruses. He is followed by John Klemmer on tenor sax and Pete Robinson on Fender piano. The tune, Don says, is based on a classic Charlie Parker solo.
'Indian Lady' first appeared on the Electric Bath album, but the tune had undergone so many changes I suggested we include an updated live version: Don is featured on trumpet, Glenn Ferris on trombone, Pete Robinson on Fender piano, and two brilliant duels. The first is "between" Ellis' two tough tenors, John Klemmer and Sam Falzone. The playing started out on an extremely high level and by the time five minutes passed by I was amazed as they screamed out together through five or six choruses, even putting the band through an impromptu dixieland pseudo-waltz section. You can tell by the audience reaction how it went down and you can barely hear the beginning of the other duet between Ralph Humphrey and Gene Stringing, two of Ellis' trio of outstanding percussionists.
The remainder of the album was recorded in Studio A, CBS Records, Hollywood, by Brian Ross-Myring, who also picked up the Stanford Concert. Ross was the engineer who worked on Don's previous albums.
'Scratt And Fluggs' is sort of a breakdown in 5/ 4 time with the various sections taking up banjo and guitar lines. Don is featured on trumpet and Pete Robinson on tack piano with some curious left-hand work.
Various friends and wives were allowed to cheer the band on. I am responsible for falling over the music stand at the end.
'Child Of Ecstasy' is a Don Ellis composition showcase for lead trumpeter Glenn Stuart. It's a mysterious blend of Eastern and Western mini-influences and features some dazzling pyrotechnics by Glenn.
'Pussy Wiggle Stomp' is a Don Ellis soul tune which is quite different from anybody else's soul tune. It's a 7/4 look at some gospel changes with a recurring theme. Pete Robinson is heard on piano, Sam Falzone on tenor and Ralph Humphrey on drums. This is an especially rewarding track for me because I think we captured some of the band's best playing ever which is so hard to do in the studio. A highlight of this is Don's trumpet solo which jumps octaves and trucks right along even when the band tacets except for some syncopated hand clapping. Humour is prevalent throughout the 47 false endings.
I save Variations For Trumpet' for last because it is a major work. It is divided into six sections which are as follows: Sec.1 - Theme; Sec. 2 - 5/4; Sec. 3 - 9/4; Sec. 4 - 7/4; Sec. 5 - 32/8; Sec. 6 - Theme and Coda.
This is Autumn for Don Ellis and his orchestra. It shows a maturing and cohesiveness far beyond its time (pardon the pun). It is not a cold, steely album. It is quite human; sometimes sad, sometimes joyous, occasionally humorous and variously frightening. But it is, I believe, the sound of our time.”
Al Kooper, 7968
And here are the very extensive notes that Charles Waring prepared for the BGO tw-fer Shock Treatment/Autumn [BGO CD 1333]. Mr. Waring is a Jazz columnist for Record Collector, contributor to MOJO and co-founder of www.soulandjazzandfunk.com.
"Don ELLIS is beyond category."
- jazz writer Nat Hentoff
“DON ELLIS died too young, too soon. He was just forty-four years old when he succumbed to a fatal heart attack on the evening of Sunday 17th December 1978 after returning home from a concert given by jazz singer Jon Hendricks. Given the fact that Ellis had been increasingly unwell after being diagnosed with an abnormal heart condition four years earlier, and experienced his first heart attack in 1975, when he almost died, perhaps his demise wasn't a total surprise to those that knew him, but it was certainly a shock nonetheless. At the time, he had just released his second album for his new label, Atlantic Records (Live At Montreux) and still had a voracious appetite to make more new music. But sadly, that wasn't to be.
Forty years on from his death, Don Ellis is almost a forgotten figure, known only to the jazz cognoscenti and a small group of passionate aficionados endeavouring to keep his name alive. Consequently, many of his recordings are out of print but this BGO twofer - combining 1968's Shock Treatment with 1969's Autumn - is the third so far from the redoubtable UK reissue label, which aims to rectify what is a profoundly disappointing situation given Ellis's significance as a musician.
Don Ellis was born on Wednesday 25th July 1934 in Los Angeles, California, to a father who was a Methodist minister and a mother who played the organ in their local church. As there was a piano in the house, he gravitated towards that particular instrument at a young age. "From when I was a little baby," he once told an interviewer, "I would get up at the piano and improvise. I would make up pieces when I was young." Later, he was smitten by jazz and brass music after accompanying his father to a concert by the Tommy Dorsey Big Band. The concert had a profound effect on the young Ellis, as he recalled in a 1978 TV interview: "I'll never forget all these trombone players that came down the front and played 'Seventy-Six Trombones' and I saw these slides going in and out and this marvellous big sound coming out. I said, that's what I want to play, and so I wrote to Santa Claus and said, I want a trumpet for Christmas - now, I actually meant a trombone but I didn't spell too good at that age and so I wrote down trumpet instead of trombone, so I got a bright shiny trumpet for Christmas. Well, I was a little disappointed that it wasn't a trombone but at the same time it was bright and shiny and I played it and in fact, I've played it ever since."
Indeed, Ellis became a trumpet prodigy and when he was a teenager, he went to study music in Boston, eventually earning a degree in composition. By this time, he was totally infatuated with jazz - trumpet mavens Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie were key early influences - and his first serious gig was in 1956, playing in the horn section of the still functioning Glenn Miller Band (even though its leader had died in World War II), then under the direction of Ray McKinley. It proved to be a good learning experience for the young Ellis, who afterwards was conscripted into the US army and was posted to Germany, where he had an opportunity to write and arrange for a military big band.
In 1958, Ellis's mandatory stint in the army came to an end and he ventured to New York City for work, eventually landing a job in fellow trumpeter Maynard Ferguson's band, where he stayed for nine months (playing on the albums A Message From Birdland and Newport Suite) before becoming interested in developments that were happening in the Big Apple's nascent avant-garde scene. He recorded with Charles Mingus on the bassist/composer's Mingus Dynasty LP in 1960 before being recruited to play in the group run by advanced jazz theorist George Russell. It was while he was playing with Russell's innovative sextet in the early '60s that Don Ellis released his debut LP, How Time Passes, on the Candid label, which was billed on the front cover as "third stream jazz", a term coined by jazz academic and composer Gunther Schuller, to describe the fusion between classical music and jazz.
Ellis joined Bob Weinstock's Prestige label later in 1961, recording New Ideas for the company's New Jazz imprint, which was primarily established to showcase contemporary, cutting-edge sounds (avant-garde magus Eric Dolphy was a label mate of Ellis's). It was now patently evident that Ellis wasn't content to play straight bebop but wanted to explore uncharted territory, which became even more apparent on his more overtly experimental album Essence, released on Pacific Jazz in 1962. At this point, the jazz community were beginning to take notice of the young trumpeter, who the same year topped a poll by jazz critics in the influential jazz bible, Downbeat magazine, in the category of New Star.
The first half of the 1960s was a hectic time for Ellis. As well as performing as a soloist with noted classical music conductor Leonard Bernstein in boundary-pushing third stream concert programmes (like Gunther Schuller's 1962 opus, 'Journey Into Jazz'), he also explored experimental music during sojourns to Europe (at concerts in Poland, Germany and Sweden) and on returning home, in 1964, he enrolled at UCLA to study ethnomusicology with Indian-born US sitar and tabla player Harihar Rao, a development which led to Ellis forming the Hindustani Jazz Sextet, where he fused jazz improv with elements from eastern and Asiatic music. The fact that the sextet played with rising counterculture stars the Grateful Dead and Big Brother & The Holding Company at San Francisco's hip Fillmore venue in 1966 reflected a greater open-mindedness to musical cross-pollinations at that time.
But it was his forays into big band music that really caught the ear and in 1966, he started putting a large ensemble together which he dubbed the Don Ellis Orchestra and they recorded a seminal LP called Don Ellis Orchestra Live! At Monterey on Pacific Jazz, which featured all the hallmarks that would come to define Ellis's unique signature style - unusual time signatures and novel orchestral sonorities. It was a performance that blew many people's minds, including eminent jazz writer, Leonard Feather, who remarked in his review of the concert: "I almost wrote that 'he stopped the show cold', but by the time Ellis and his men were through, the stage was an inferno."
Hot on its heels came another incendiary live performance captured on the ensemble's second LP for Pacific Jazz, Live in 3 2/3 4 Time, which marked out Ellis as not only an innovator but also someone who could make the largely extinct big bands relevant again in a jazz-rock context.
In 1967, mighty Columbia Records came calling. Then the home to jazz giants Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck and Thelonious Monk, the company's A&R guru and producer, John Hammond - the man who had 'discovered' Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan and Aretha Franklin - sensed something momentous in Ellis and his 20-strong band's exciting new music and promptly signed them to the label. The first fruit of their marriage was the outrageous Electric Bath, where Ellis upped the ante even further by using a quarter-tone trumpet and electronic delay effects against a musical backdrop that was driven by asymmetrical meters and represented a bold fusion of jazz with the visceral punch of rock music.
This BGO twofer catches up with Ellis in the immediate aftermath of Electric Bath. It's 1968 and 34-year-old Ellis is once again in the studio with A&R veteran John Hammond, then 58, at the helm. Though in terms of its personnel, it had many of the same players that appeared on Electric Bath, the album was attributed only to Ellis, with no mention of his orchestra. Whereas Electric Bath was comprised of only five extended tracks, Shock Treatment had double the amount of songs - ten in all, and most were relatively short (around the three and-half minute mark) interspersed with two longer ones (as opposed to four extended ones on the first Columbia album). It was perhaps a sign that Columbia wanted something more digestible in commercial terms and certainly, some of the tunes were more accessible than those found on Electric Bath. According to the album's original liner notes, Columbia duo Simon & Garfunkel were present as interested onlookers for part of the sessions, which took place on February 14th and 15th of 1968.
'A New Kind Of Country' is a boisterous, funky opener from the pen of Hank Levy (1927-2001), a Maryland-born composer with a penchant for writing charts in unusual time signatures and who had written music for bandleader Stan Kenton. Levy wrote 'Alone' on Electric Bath and also composed 'Whiplash', recorded by Ellis in 1974, which became the title song in the acclaimed 2014 Hollywood movie of the same name about a tyrannical jazz teacher who pushes a drum student to the edge of a breakdown.
'Mercy Maybe Mercy' is another Levy composition, opening with Steve Bohannon's crisp drumbeat in 7/4 time, over which are placed elegant brass charts, followed by solos on soprano sax and organ.
The lightly-swinging modal jazz piece, 'Opus Five' - in 5/4 time, the same metre that Dave Brubeck used for his famous 1960 jazz hit, Take Five' - is the longest and arguably the best cut on the album and was written by US jazz pianist Howlett Smith. It's driven by an ostinato groove and has a pronounced eastern flavour. There's a long passage of acoustic piano extemporization from Mike Lang, followed by Don Ellis, who begins his solo quietly before ramping up the sonic drama and excitement. There's a brilliant passage by the brass section as the rhythm becomes intense due to the introduction of percussion.
The humorously-titled 'Beat Me Daddy, Seven To The Bar' is a Don Ellis tune that starts with his unaccompanied trumpet for thirty seconds before the introduction of a wild, mutant Latin groove -in 7/4 time - that's propelled by clanging percussion. There's some exciting interplay between the brass section and soloists, the latter including pianist Mike Lang and tenor saxophonist Ron Starr, and there's also a drums and percussion breakdown segment where the rhythmic impetus of the piece seems to evaporate before a brief raucous reprise of the main groove heralds an explosive climax.
Propelled by human percussion in the shape of finger snaps, another Ellis composition, 'The Tihai', is initially more ethereal in character. Its title refers to an expression describing a technique found in Indian music where a musical phrase or motif is played three times in succession. It usually starts being played across the beat and then concludes by landing decisively on the beat. This is something that Ellis probably gleaned from working with Harihar Rao, who had himself studied with Indian master Ravi Shankar. The second longest tune on the LP, 'The Tihai' features vibes and muted trumpet in a mellow intro before becoming more vibrant and morphing into a playful but complex, brass-heavy big band workout in 9/4 time. Again, there's a lot of piquant Latin-style colouration in the rhythm section and some dynamic juxtapositions in texture as well as chiaroscuro use of musical light and shade.
The Ellis-penned 'Milo's Theme' opened side two of the first vinyl pressing of Shock Treatment. Ellis creates some striking orchestral sonorities on the intro and plays electric trumpet, using a delay effect that creates horn ricochets. What eventually emerges is an elegant ballad that is exquisitely orchestrated by its composer.
'Star Children' is a cosmic mood piece laced with slivers of Indian sitar and haunting astral choir vocals that wouldn't have been out of place on the soundtrack to the NBC TV sci-fi series, Star Trek, then in its second season in 1967. Against this backdrop, Ellis plays trumpet lines that have an Hispanic inflection. After its gentle start, the piece concludes with crashing brass chords.
'Homecoming' is more down to earth, with strong blues inflections revealed in Ellis's glistening trumpet melody, which glides over a slow, throbbing pulse. It's probably the most traditional big band-sounding song on the album.
It's back to an unorthodox compound tempo with 'Seven Up', whose title alludes to its 7/4 metre. A bright, jaunty piece which is brimming with contrapuntal interplay, it swings blithely despite its unusual time signature (coincidentally, Don Ellis later wrote the soundtrack to a 1973 thriller movie called The Sevens-Ups).
'Zim', written by John Magruder, a saxophonist and woodwind player in Ellis's band, concluded the original first pressing of Shock Treatment. It's initially a more reflective piece, built on an ostinato bass motif which gradually gathers momentum, and is characterised by cleverly interwoven brass parts and call-and-response phrases with the soloists.
Don Ellis was satisfied with the album he presented to Columbia for release but it was when he first heard a copy of the finished product, that he realised something was wrong, and which left him feeling, to use his own words, "embarrassed and not proud". Explaining what had happened in a letter he wrote to Downbeat magazine, he said: "Upon completion of the album, I did the mixing and editing here in California and then sent the finished product to New York. It wasn't until the album was already released that I heard a pressing. Much to my horror, I found that without consulting me the whole album had been changed around - rejected masters and unapproved takes were used (not the ones which I had selected and edited), the wrong tunes were on the album, unauthorized splices were made which disturbed the musical flow of some of the compositions (beats were even missing from bars), whole sections were cut out, some of these being the high points of the album. Therefore the liner notes, which were done to the original album, do not agree with what is actually on the album, calling attention to solos and high spots which are not there. Also, the wrong personnel is listed on the jacket. When I discovered what had happened I was, naturally, disturbed and asked Columbia to redo the album. They graciously consented and I was able to change the album back to its original form except that I left 'Mercy Maybe Mercy', which my producer particularly liked, in place of 'Zim', which I hope will appear in a future album. Unfortunately, they were not able to call back all the thousands of albums which had already been released. However, they did send a note to the reviewers telling them that the copy which they had received was defective, and to please not review it until they received the corrected copy."
The second, revised, version of the LP had been cut to nine tracks, and slightly juggled the song sequence. 'Seven Up' and 'Zim' had been dropped completely (though they were later reinstated on Koch's 2012 CD reissue} and a new song, 'Night City' (co-written by Ellis), was included which featured mellow close vocal harmonies from an uncredited choir over a psych-soul backbeat.
Thankfully, no controversy and confusion surrounded Don Ellis's next studio opus, Autumn, which was attributed to Don Ellis And His Orchestra and included new member, tenor saxophonist John Klemmer, who would later go on to enjoy a distinguished solo career. This time John Hammond relinquished his role as producer and in his place came Al Kooper, the keyboardist in another path-finding act of the late '60s, jazz-rockers Blood, Sweat & Tears. He described Autumn in his liner notes as "the sound of our time". Two of the cuts - Ellis's take on bebop maestro Charlie Parker's 'K.C. Blues' and the original tune, 'Indian Lady', which was first recorded on 1967's Electric Bath - reflected Kooper's desire to capture the onstage electricity generated by the band in a live context. Both were recorded during a performance at Stanford University in 1968. The remaining four cuts of the album were laid down in Columbia's Hollywood studio.
The opener is 'Variations For Trumpet', a 20-minute epic divided into six parts that begins with a huge explosion of sound that dissolves via a phasing effect to leave a desolate, bittersweet trumpet theme suspended over a shimmering backdrop. The music is embellished with dancing woodwind figures before the theme is restated in a more grandiose manner. A transition section with shards of reverberating, echoing trumpet leads to a more reflective second passage before another recap of the opening theme.
At around six minutes, a sprightly ostinato passage in 9/4 time introduces the third section of the piece which is peppered with horn solos and lively interplay. At 9:18 into the piece, a fiery Latin fourth section - driven by percolating percussion - is played in a virile 7/4 metre which gradually intensifies and results in some thrilling music; just to complicate matters rhythmically, the piece fragments into a breakdown passage featuring avant-garde style trumpet and piano shards before the tempo picks up at 13:55 for a swirling and vigorous 32/8 tempo. The music hurtles to a noisy climax where the orchestra is drowned out by a veil of white noise before a re-statement of the main theme beginning at 16:21 leading to a concluding coda, where the piece ignites in a blazing cadenza of glory. Producer Al Kooper described 'Variations For Trumpet' as "a major work" and he's not wrong. It's possibly the most impressive piece in Don Ellis's musical legacy.
A contrast in style, tone and duration is heralded by 'Scratt & Fluggs', a short, scruffy, foot-tapping barn dance-style knees-up which is rendered in 5/4 time. Though it sounds like a live track, it was recorded in the studio and according to Al Kooper, the audience whoops and cheers are supplied by 'Various friends and wives (who) were allowed to cheer the band on". When the music stops, the clatter of a falling music stand hitting the floor is clearly audible on the recording. According to Al Kooper in his liner notes, that was his fault: "I am responsible for falling over the music stand at the end," he confessed, with a profound sense of embarrassment.
Less frenetic but no less energetic is the quasi-gospel-jazz romp, 'Pussy Wiggle Stomp', which is initiated by syncopated handclaps. It's also executed in 7/4 but swings like a Muhammad Ali left hook. It's exuberant, playful and humorous, with plenty of solo spots - most notably from Sam Falzone on tenor sax, Pete Robinson on piano, Don Ellis (who blows some incandescent trumpet) and drummer Ralph Humphrey. The piece is also notable for having a mind-blowing forty-seven false endings. Just when you think it's safe to assume the piece has ended, it starts up again.
According to producer, Al Kooper, "I think we captured some of the band's best playing ever," and it's hard not to agree with him. Ellis later released another version, a live one, on 1970's Don Ellis At Fillmore album.
The live big band take on Charlie Parker's 'K.C. Blues' opens with two and-a-half minutes of rhapsodic melodic lines from a lone saxophone (altoist Frank Strozier), before a walking bass and piano begin a lightly swinging jazz-blues gait. Brass explosions signal the entrance of the full band. At four minutes in, John Klemmer's tenor sax picks up the baton, counterpointed by some slick horn interchanges. Rhythmically, the piece morphs into an infectious shuffle groove with densely-textured parts around the six-minute mark as it moves towards a noisy climax. A lull in the sonic drama allows Pete Robinson to show off his piano skills on the Fender Rhodes before the full band re-enter and initiate a frantic finale.
Beginning with a layered trumpet fanfare, the ballad 'Child Of Ecstasy' spotlights the Ellis orchestra's lead trumpeter, Glenn Stuart, who shows himself to be more than equal to the task. He hits some ear-splitting high notes at the song's conclusion.
Ellis fans would have already been familiar with the Eastern-influenced 'Indian Lady', one of the highlights of 1967's Electric Bath album. At 17-and-a-half minutes long, this live version (recorded in Palo Alto at Stanford University) is double the length of the original studio version. Explaining the decision to include another rendition on the album so soon after the studio version, producer Al Kooper said: "The tune had undergone so many changes I suggested we do an updated live version." Taken at break-neck speed - imagine the Count Basie band ramped-up on speed - it presents a series of wild solos (Ellis, trombonist Glenn Ferris and pianist Pete Robinson) before featuring a couple of combative duels. The first is a long one between Ellis and the jousting tenor saxophones of John Klemmer and Sam Falzone, over a rhythmic pulse that can only be described as frenzied. The second pits drummer Ralph Humphrey against percussionist Gene Strimling before a recapitulation with the full band at 14:23, who seem to be powered by rocket fuel. There are a couple of false endings, too, which shows that despite the intensity and seriousness of the music, humour wasn't entirely absent. Unsurprisingly, given what they had just witnessed, the audience reaction at the end is floor-stompingly tumultuous. They had seen a new kind of large jazz ensemble that had were taking big band music to a new, higher, level.
But the Don Ellis Orchestra wasn't just any big band. They blurred the strict demarcation lines between jazz, rock, classical and world music. And they didn't look like jazz musicians. According to Al Kooper, "the band is outfitted by a local (LA) hip clothing store and they all wear velvet-satin puff-sleeve affairs with white turtlenecks beneath." They looked more like rock stars, reflecting a time when some of the more adventurous and forward-looking musicians in the jazz community were keen to fuse jazz with other types of music to make it appear more relevant to younger listeners. On that level, the Don Ellis Orchestra succeeded. At a time when bebop was dying and the avant-garde scene was making jazz more esoteric, they breathed new life into the genre with the thrilling kind of musical cross-pollination that can be found on the two albums in this collection.
After Autumn, Ellis stayed with Columbia for four more albums - The New Don Ellis Band Goes Underground, Don Ellis At Fillmore, Tears Of Joy and Connection (all these titles are available in twofer sets by BGO). While he was still at Columbia, Ellis began a parallel career scoring movie soundtracks. It was his second one, for the multi-award-winning 1971 William Friedkin film, The French Connection, starring Gene Hackman as tough cop 'Popeye' Doyle on the trail of a narcotics gang, that brought Ellis's name firmly into the consciousness of the mainstream public. Ellis won a Grammy for his score and also wrote the soundtrack to the sequel, French Connection II, in 1975, as well as other gritty crime thrillers like The Seven-Ups.
After leaving Columbia Records in 1972, Ellis joined German label MPS in 1973, where he issued two fine albums - Soaring and Haiku - before health issues curtailed his activities. He was eventually diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a disease that affects the heart muscle and can cause irregular heartbeats and increases the risk of sudden cardiac death. In 1975, Ellis suffered a heart attack and almost died. In fact, he claimed before he was resuscitated, that he had a near-death experience. "It sounds weird, I know, but it was a remarkably beautiful experience, maybe the ultimate high," he told interviewer Don Heckman in Downbeat magazine in 1977.
Though he must have felt he was living with the sword of Damocles hanging over him, Ellis recovered sufficiently to recommence working and signed to Atlantic Records in 1977, where he released a brace of albums. But in 1978, Ellis was ordered to stop playing trumpet by his doctor because of the stress it placed on his heart. He heeded his doctor's advice but a few months later, he died from a heart attack.
Unequivocally, Ellis's early death has contributed to his obscurity. If he had lived longer, he may have found a bigger audience for his music and been more widely recognised for his accomplishments. As it is, though, he's not afforded the respect that his talent and innovative music deserved. The two albums in this BGO compilation are a reminder of Don Ellis' unique musical gifts, highlighting not only his virtuosic trumpet playing but also his brilliance as a composer, arranger, and bandleader. Playing electric trumpet and using effects like an Echoplex and a ring-modulator several years before Miles Davis, he was undoubtedly a pathfinding genius who was ahead of his time. Above all, Don Ellis was original, fearless, uncompromising, driven, and never content to reheat old ideas and repeat the past. To use Star Trek parlance, he was not afraid to boldly go where no musician had been before.”
- Charles Waring, 2018