On February 22nd, 2005, John Ellis will release his new full length album, One Foot In The Swamp, on HYENA Records. Having recently signed to the New York City independent record label, the recording will be his first ever nationally distributed U.S. release. Ellis, who is widely known for his work as the saxophonist in Ropeadope recording artist Charlie Hunter's prolific and hard touring trio, recorded One Foot In The Swamp in New Orleans with his quartet featuring Aaron Goldberg on Rhodes and Wurlitzer, Roland Guerin on acoustic bass and Jason Marsalis on drums. He was joined by special guests John Scofield on guitar, Nicolas Payton on trumpet and Gregoire Maret on harmonica. Ellis composed all of the selections with the exception of two pieces that were based on traditional Southern folk songs.
One Foot In The Swamp opens with a simultaneously inspirational and greasy number called "Happy." It sets the tone for what's to follow. Ellis and company sublimely walk the line between the old school and the new, keeping one eye on the pocket and the other on the horizon--a reference of this philosophy might be drawn from the album's title. It's an organic approach that makes even more sense when one considers that Ellis has split the majority of his career living between the traditional jazz mecca of New Orleans and the edgier, modern jazz well-spring of New York City. Compositions such as "Bonus Round" and "Chalmette Shwarma" exemplify Ellis' willingness to push the boundaries of a song when the moment demands it, while the traditional "Sippin' Cider," based on a tune Ellis remembers his grandparents singing to him as a child, updates a joyous, Crescent City, second line rhythm. "I approach the music as a gift and the musician's job is to be a vessel for it, so we just needed to stay out of its way," explains Ellis. "Almost all of the tunes were played in ways we had never played them before. In other words, we didn't do gigs and work out how we would record the material. We did gigs, figured out how to play the tunes, and then changed them in the studio. We were engaged in the process of discovery the whole time, and I think the music sounds alive because of it."
The addition of trumpeter Nicholas Payton and harmonica player Gregoire Maret on five tracks apiece, along with jazz guitar giant John Scofield on two tracks, allowed Ellis room to experiment with a variety of shades and moods. "I was going for a warmth in the orchestration. I think some of the colors are very unusual on a jazz record," states Ellis. "'Ostinato' uses bass clarinet, harmonica, flugelhorn and Rhodes, which turned out to be a great color. The absence of acoustic piano was intentional as well because the sound of the piano suggests 'jazz' in a way that I wasn't interested in for this record."
"Work In Progress" has a pastoral texture guided gently along by Maret's melodious harmonica, but the tune soon builds to a frantic tempo with Payton's warped trumpet lines bending the gorgeous melody to its outer limits. "Seeing Mice" is a dream-like excursion, finding Ellis contemplative and serene, while Payton and Maret swirl about in a more ominous fashion. "One For The Kelpers," featuring John Scofield's guitar work, is a barnburner and a center piece for the date. Its gritty jazz pulls One Foot In The Swamp back to its center, but only long enough for Ellis to regroup and sail back into the heart of the storm.
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