CD: John Ellis & Double-Wide’s “Puppet Mischief”

(ObliqSound, 2010):

Saxman John Ellis is probably best known for his nearly six-year stint with guitarist Charlie Hunter. Last summer, Ellis commanded my attention when I saw him play with Texas jazz vocalist Kat Edmonson at the Tanglewood Jazz Weekend. But Double-Wide is a different animal altogether, not particularly akin to either of those projects.

First, there’s the rather unique line-up: In addition to Ellis on tenor sax and bass clarinet, the band features organist Brian Coogan, drummer Jason Marsalis and sousaphonist Matt Perrine. And the special guests who make impressive contributions to “Puppet Mischief” are trombonist Alan Ferber and harmonica virtuoso Gregoire Maret. Obviously not your typical jazz combo…

The sound of New Orleans seeps deep into these nine tunes, all penned by Ellis. In part, it’s because of Marsalis’ distinctive drumming (and he is, after all, a member of New Orleans First Family of Jazz). It’s part because Perrine’s oh-so-funky sousaphone provides the quartet with a brass band foundation and flair. And it’s part because the album has an undeniable Crescent City joie de vivre.

“It’s hard to say those two words next to each other and not smile,” Ellis says of the album title. And indeed, when asked about the album’s inspirations, Ellis rattles off “carnivals, state fairs, children laughing, clowns and dancing.”

Double-Wide is like a syncopated circus band – sharp and versatile, but just a bit woozy. It’s the Man on the Flying Trapeze. It’s Mardi Gras madness. It’s Fellini and a bottle of red wine.

And “Puppet Mischief” is the best new album of the year so far…

John Ellis & Double-Wide make a tour stop at Red Square in Albany at 9pm on Thursday (March 4). Tickets are $12.

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