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15 July 2013

Don Ellis - 'Haiku' (MPS/BASF)

A record released on the BASF label?!? Was this primarily intended to demonstrate stereo equipment over its artistic goals? Ellis is a good choice for such an approach, because he has a really lush, psychedelic arrangement style and his compositions lie somewhere between Sketches of Spain-era Miles Davis and the more circular meanderings of Moondog, or even Lou Harrison. The Harrison connection is heard most obviously on the opening cut, 'Children', which is an exercise in pure, liquid beauty. There's no easy place to file this - it's trumpet-driven but it's hardly jazz - it's soundtracky, but not a soundtrack - and it's got classical overtones galore, but it's hardly classical music. The more orchestrated moments weave the ear candy into cotton forms, occasionally overdoing it with it's pouncing rhythms ('Summer Rain') but being delightful and elegant when stripped down - side one closes with 'Forest', built primarily around Ellis's trumpet and a bit of harp. But even the parts that sounds clichéd, I can't help but wondering if you threw Van Dyke Parks singing overtop and told me it was a Song Cycle outtake, if I'd be ecstatic. Ellis is probably most famous for the French Connection soundtrack, which has a dirtier edge than anything here. The liner notes talk about how influenced he is by Japanese culture, though there's hardly any Eastern flavour to the sounds. But the photo of a nude Ellis sitting on a rock, contemplating the mysteries of the universe (with those contemplations likely forming into a 5-7-5 pattern), tells me all I need to know. This has always stayed in my vinyl accumulation because even though it's pretty 'soft', it's sometimes just the right atmosphere for a lazy summer afternoon. There's too much work to be done, so instead of romping through the leaves and trees I can stare at the screen and let this carry me off to distant imagined corners of mainstream psychedelic circa 1971. I thought I had a copy of Electric Bath, which has a somewhat more Latin edge, but I must have imagined that.

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