Posted on by jdoerck | Posted in Review | Tagged ,

Street fightin' man
Lisle Ellis - composer, improviser, artistic provocateur - lands a 'Sucker Punch'

April 24, 2008

Former San Diego bassist Lisle Ellis has collaborated with such genre-shredding musical visionaries as Cecil Taylor, John Zorn and Dave Douglas. His own work fuses laptop-generated, experimental electronic music with acoustic instrumentation and a variety of jazz styles, from post-bop to cutting edge and various points in between.

The provocative results, as demonstrated on Ellis' new album, "Sucker Punch Requiem," are both challenging and rewarding. Subtitled "An Homage to Jean-Michel Basquiat," in honor of the late New York painter, it is the latest release on Henceforth Records, the enterprising indie label founded by former Spruce Street Forum honcho Bonnie Wright.

Coincidentally, the now-defunct Spruce Street Forum also served as an art gallery that once hosted a show of Ellis' own paintings. His sensitivity to the visual, as well as musical, realms makes him ideally suited to salute Basquiat's graffiti-inspired paintings. His music on this album dances between - and around - form and abstraction, tradition and confrontation, clarity and distortion.

Ellis doesn't take a solo until the seventh of the 16 selections on the 63-minute-long "Sucker Punch Requiem," which he has loosely structured using the Roman Catholic Church's traditional six-part Requiem Mass for the Dead as a musical foundation. But his presence is felt throughout, thanks to his strength as a composer, improviser and artistic provocateur.

He employs recurring motifs to provide flow and cohesion, yet allows those themes to change shape so that they are fluid aural signifiers, not rigid signposts. He also benefits greatly from the muy simpatico performances of an all-star musical cast that gives "Sucker Punch Requiem" much of its force and finesse.

The esteemed lineup includes San Diego's Holly Hofmann and Mike Wofford on flute and piano, respectively, along with trombone great (and former UCSD professor) George Lewis. Also featured are saxophonist Oliver Lake, drummer Susie Ibarra and voice and electronics maverick Pamela Z.

Together with Ellis, they create a series of musical portraits that invite contemplative listening, be it on the suite-like "For Blues and Other Spells," or the otherworldly elegy "Incantation and Ascent." Equally notable is the exquisite balladry of "Suicide Study," a stunning showcase for both Hofmann and Wofford, but no less so for Ellis, whose gently propulsive bass lines are felt as much as heard.