All Over the Map
Nick DiScala | San Francisco, CA USA | 03/09/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a mixed bag of hits and misses. It is Don's first overtly commercial and rock influenced album-many pop covers, backup vocals, and a featured R&B vocalist. But there are also tunes that would fit perfectly well on any on Don's less commercial and more artistically satisfying endeavors: Bulgarian Bulge, Ferris Wheel, Love for Rent, and much of Goood (sic) Feelin'.
Even with the pop covers, there are many intrinsic touches of the Ellis style that elevate the arrangements above the usual pandering crossover attempts of others. For example, the bridge of "It's Your Thing" with its octave multividers and 1/4-tone trumpets, or the driving "Eli's Comin'" that ends with a soulful "Rock-a-Nova" coda. If you can get over any potential prejudices about the source material, there are many aspects of the arrangements and playing that are quite satisfying.
The featured vocalist, Patti Allen, is a bit of a question mark. There are times when she can rip it, Janis Joplin style, with the best of them; and then there are times when she sounds like she'd be kicked off in the early rounds of American Idol. I actually like the last cut, "Black Baby", which is nothing more than her quietly reciting a poem with Don sensitively ad libbing some blues behind her. Very simple and very effective.
In sum, a mixed bag and certainly not at the top of anyone's desert island list; but second-rate Ellis is often more interesting than the best efforts of others.
William R. Nicholas | Mahwah, NJ USA | 08/11/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Maybe when they named this The New Don Ellis Band Goes Underground, they were aiming for airplay on underground FM radio, emerging when this came out in 1969. But even that does not make sense. A lot of these tracks would have fit on AM. This is the least "underground" of Don Ellis' albums.
But really, NOT a problem. "Underground" is basically a soul record, and a great one at that. You have a Blood Sweat and Tears cover, a Harry Nelson cover, and a Laura Nyro cover. One track has is a Sly Stone homage, and there is a ballad here that could have easily gone top five, as good as anything on Dusty in Memphis or Areatha '69.
Ellis works with singer Patti Allen here, and she is top flight: as a grooner, a belter, and a psychadelic master of ceramonies. Either something really bad happened to her, or labal executives of the era were asleep at the switch. Allen should have been famous.
Gone are the arcane time signigtures, sitars and exotic Turkish shadings that had kids lining up at the Filmore to see Ellis open for top rock acts. This is a jazz band playing soul, giving it a whole lot of texture and meat.
Which brings me back to this whole "underground" labal. This is great, straight ahead music by top writters of the era and a killer band.
Ellis may not have really gone underground here, but I love him above ground just fine.