Tenor saxophonist Jeff Ellwood has joined forces with several great jazz musicians from Southern California to release his debut CD as a leader, The Sounds Around the House. Ellwood is known for his improvisational skills and his daring and intriguing approach to the tenor saxophone. He has appeared on many CDs but finally he has taken the leadership and the results are extraordinary.
With Ellwood is piano great Alan Pasqua, the man Elwood credits for introducing him to the Southern California Jazz community. Pasqua calls Ellwood, “one of my favorite tenor saxophonists on the planet.” Also joining Ellwood and Pasqua are innovative bass player Darek Oles and renowned drummer in Bill Evans’ last band, Joe LaBarbera, as well as multi-reeds maestro Bob Sheppard. This is a stellar line-up.
Five of the nine tracks on the album are composed by the artists in this lineup with Pasqua contributing three of the tracks.
The album opens with Ellwood’s original, U-R, which is his variation on a theme from Jerome Kern’s All the Things You Are. Immediately, the tenor sax directions catch the attention and the band contributes their mighty talents to pull off a great contrafact of the Kern piece. Pasqua’s piano work takes its own interesting directions. Oles and LaBarbera each get their own solos to send us headlong into the remainder of the album.
The first of Pasqua’s originals follows with Agrodolche, first played by Ellwood when he was part of Pasqua’s own band. A great vehicle for Ellwood’s tenor sax, the piece moves beautifully with fine interplay between Ellwood and Pasqua’s trade of the lead.
Pasqua also contributed Old School Blues with its back-and-forth major and minor Blues. Ellwood just nails it. Good solos all around. Barcelona was Pasqua’s final original on the album, another piece well-loved by Ellwood when he played in Pasqua’s band. It is warm and inviting, like Barcelona itself. Pasqua’s piano is nothing short of gorgeous.
Darek Oles’ The Honeymoon was heard by Ellwood when Oles and Pasqua were part of the Peter Erskine Trio. This one swings. Ellwood takes a road less traveled in his improvisations and it pays off splendidly.
Bob Sheppard joins Ellwood for King Henry by Dick Oatts. Oatts was a big influence on Ellwood and this is Ellwood’s tribute to the great saxman. It opens with a cool bass intro from Oles before going into the sax duet from Ellwood and Sheppard. The play between these two is so fine. Listen out for LaBarbera’s solo.
Ellwood also pays tribute to another saxman, Rick Margitza, on Provence. It is haunting and emotional and so well done. An extraordinary display of understatement, even delicacy.
The title track, The Sounds Around the House, is by the great team of Alec Wilder and Johnny Mercer. I have always loved this song, first recorded by Dick Haymes, and Ellwood has done it great justice. Haymes’ 1978 release was vocal and piano only. Bobo Stenson’s 1983 version was solo piano. The quartet version by Ellwood is worth the long wait for it to be done so very well.
The album closes with For Roger, a tribute to Ellwood’s friend Roger Shew, written by Joe Bagg. The song is performed by only Ellwood’s tenor and Oles’ bass. Roger Shew died from a rare form of cancer in 2014. Roger was a Jazz band instructor in Laguna Beach, whose former student Caden Robinson remarked on Roger’s passing, “He treated everyone in jazz band with a level of respect unknown to students in middle school and high school. I consider him more than a teacher, but a professor and friend.” A man who deserves to be remembered. Ellwood and Oles do just that.
What a band and what an album! These guys belong together. Jeff Ellwood has picked the right artists to play the right songs and the results are so fine. If this is Ellwood’s debut album, Good God, don’t let it be the last.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl
Sentinel Rural News is the leading source of news for Central Wisconsin. We utilize local writers as our content creators while including contributors of expertise from across the country.