Liberty Ellman Tactiles Review

BBC Review

Ellman needs a shot of chaos to disturb his too-neat vision.

Martin Longley 2004

Guitarist, composer and producer Ellman has played with Henry Threadgill, Steve Bernstein, Butch Morris and Greg Osby, the latter guesting here on three tracks. Although born in London, Ellman has spent most of his life in the States, bouncing from New York to the West Coast Bay Area and now back again. In 1998, he released the solo debut Orthodoxy on his own Red Giant Records and currently alternates between trio and quartet line-ups.

On this long-awaited follow-up Ellman is joined by Mark Shim (tenor saxophone), Stephan Crump (bass) and Eric Harland (drums). Liberty's tunes are steeped in the steely essence of Manhattan, his highly detailed ensemble themes invariably progressing with cool, cerebral detachment. His guitar sound has a metallic sheen that springs forth with lucid strokes, picked out with careful precision. He uses shadowy ghostings of pedal steel or slide blues tonality, though there are no bottlenecks in sight. Ellman travels from Wes Montgomery right up to Bill Frisell, his core attitude being surprisingly traditional, but slightly overloaded through an uppity amplifier.

Mark Shim is equally careful, enunciating his lines with a hot-breathed intimacy. When the leader solos, he skates right across the linear rhythms, and his tenorman is encouraged to do the same, always investigating the angular response. Their tones and phrases remain quite mainstream, but offset by Ellman's compositional substance, bending into partially unfamiliar shapes. "Rare Birds" has a circuitous, tentative motion, and Shim is at his gentlest during "Body Art", but he saves his best solo until the parting "Post Approval".

Osby maintains a low profile on "Temporary Aid" and "How Many Texts", but his solo on "Ultraviolet" is particularly agile, contributing to this being the most vibrant number. Unfortunately, the album's cumulative effect is a feeling of sameness in its raw compositional matter. Ellman needs a shot of chaos to disturb his too-neat vision.

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