By Hrayr Attarian - Chicago Jazz Magazine
The Sounds Around the House
Jeff Ellwood – Tenor saxophone
Alan Pasqua – Piano
Darek Oles – Bass
Joe LaBarbera – Drums
Bob Sheppard – Tenor Saxophone (6)
Saxophonist and educator Jeff Ellwood leads a quartet of past collaborators on his laid-back and simmering debut, The Sounds Around the House. This cohesive and captivating album of originals and covers balances nuanced compositions with brilliant spontaneity and charismatic individuality with a warm and sophisticated group sound. The result is a remarkably engaging slice of brilliant and accessible music.
Ellwood’s own “U-R” has a breezy theme that glides smoothly over the group’s swinging cadence. Ellwood launches into an elegant improvisation with cool confidence as his band’s vamps percolate in the backdrop. Out of this dynamic interplay emerges pianist Alan Pasqua with suave and resonant cascades, followed by bassist Darek Oles and his crisp, lyrical musings. Drummer Joe LaBarbera takes a virtuosic solo with reserved emotion and sparse polyrhythms.
LaBarbera opens Oles’ contribution “The Honeymoon” with exciting beats. The overall ambience is effervescent with a restless vibrancy. Pasqua lets loose a complex and agile series of phrases, setting the stage for Ellwood’s passionate, wailing tenor. Ellwood embellishes the melody with swagger and sinewy lines. LaBarbera ushers in the conclusion with his thunderous beats.
Pasqua’s tender ballad “Agrodolche,” on the other hand, is darkly hued and melancholic with a nocturne-like atmosphere and Western classical motifs. The composer’s shimmering pianism is serene and poetic as it flows—framed by Oles’ and LaBarbera’s subtle thuds and rustles. Ellwood embellishes the tune with wistful eloquence, carefully utilizing silent pauses for a haunting effect.
Saxophonist Bob Sheppard makes a guest appearance on the dramatic “King Henry.” Sheppard and Ellwood’s contrasting styles give this Dick Oatts piece its unique flavor. The acerbic soulful, tones of one complements the other’s brassier, brisker notes. The tension mounts as the saxophonists overlap their disparate expressions behind the trio’s taut refrains before returning in unison to the spirited head.
The Sounds Around the House is a mature and fascinating work that showcases Ellwood’s superb musicianship as well as the seamless camaraderie within the group. It is a stimulating and intriguing work with a creative energy throughout that does not slack. It definitely whets the appetite for what is to come in the future from this immensely talented artist.