DON ELLIS — Soaring (review)

DON ELLIS — Soaring album cover Album · 1973 · Progressive Big Band Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
js
Don Ellis’ “Soaring” is another one of those albums that is a tale of two sides, with one side being quite different from the other. Side one of this album is classic Don Ellis high energy modern big band music with ambitious arrangements, lots of odd-metered rhythms, electronic effects and screaming solos. Side two, instead, centers more around ballads and pop type material. The whole album is worth a listen, but I bet most Ellis fans are going to gravitate to side one. A big plus on this album is Bulgarian keyboardist Milcho Leviev who shares Don’s enthusiasm for complex arrangements, odd metered rhythms and wild solos enhanced with electronics. Milcho was always Don’s most valuable sideman.

Some highlights on side one include Milcho’s “Sladka Pitka” which features Bulgarian rhythms and Leviev’s crazed solo on an electric piano enhanced with wah wah effects. Ellis’ “The Devil Made Me Write this Piece” features African rhythms and Don himself taking a drum solo. Side one closes with “Go Back Home”, a foot stomping soul jazz rave up that was a crowd favorite. Throughout this side Don delivers many hair raising solos on the trumpet showing he ranked with the best of the day. In fact, this album may be the one album of his that best showcases his soloing abilities.

“Invincible” opens side two and is probably the best track on this side. It starts as a ballad but then builds, guided by Vince Denham’s powerful sax solo, as it goes through constant modulations and then a classic Don Ellis false ending. The rest of this side is taken by two ballads that are quite sentimental by Ellis standards. I think this album was intended to include all the fan favorites, so that might explain the more pop oriented material. One other track on this side, “Sidonie”, brings back the Bulgarian rhythms and energy, but it lacks the luster of the tracks on the first side. Its kind of convenient the way they split the music on this album, I will probably spin side one now and again, but its possible I may never give side two another listen. Not that it is so bad, but its not what I would normally be drawn to in a Don Ellis recording.
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