Nick DiScala | San Francisco, CA USA | 08/15/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I work with the Don Ellis estate and am involved in various recording, publishing, and producing projects for it. I received an early promo of this and it prompted me to rethink many of my long standing thoughts about this recording. First, a little history.
This recording was rushed together from beginning to end in six days. Atlantic's deal was that if they were going to record and release Don's upcoming Montreux date (they did), he first had to generate an album to capitalize on the then current Star Wars craze. There was very little time to do this since the Montreux gig was fast approaching. As one result, this is the only Ellis album where he had other people arranging his own tunes. Then the Atlantic marketing department went to work. The band was redubbed ("Survival"), and tunes were renamed with outer space references. Don likely had a hand in the renaming of the tunes as the names often slyly tie into the original title; e.g., Eros was originally entitled Let's Do It This Way For Awhile. So in six days, the whole project from end to end was brokered, conceptualized, arranged, rehearsed, and recorded. With that in mind, it's not surprising that the final product pales compared to Don's other recordings. But...
Wounded Bird has done a good job with the sound transfer. It has more presence and dimension than I recall from the LP. And maybe I'm just partial from association, but the album overall is not as weak as I thought before. Yes, there are 10 tunes on a 40 minute CD--probably for easy radio play--and the band never stretches out and unleashes its full power. Yes, many of the tunes have a disco aspect to them. Yes, the title track is particularly weak, especially with the vocals intoning "Star Wars" over and over. (By the way, it's my observation that jazz instrumentalists usually take a marked wrong turn when they try their hand at incorporating lyrics where none previously existed.) Yes, most of the tunes are in 4/4--and that's a marginal pejorative only when applied to Ellis' usual time signature forays. But many of the tunes and arrangements have solid things to recommend about them.
Arcturas, Lyra, and Eros all showed up in live versions on the Montreux recording, so you can judge for yourself what these charts were like unbridled. The only other thing to note about Eros is that Don made a lot of cuts from the original arrangement, which (I feel) greatly water down the piece into not much more than a head chart, albeit with some interesting cross accents.
Don's soloing is pretty good throughout. (He's almost the only soloist.) His solos are usually on the short side, but they rarely lack wit or musicality.
The strings are well integrated as an equal with the other sections and not just "sweeteners".
Given the circumstances of minimal rehearsal and limited recording time, the band plays well, if a bit on the safe side.
If the arrangements are somewhat curtailed, the compositions often reflect Don's melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic thinking at the time. For instance, the melodic profile of Crypton is very akin to that of Sporting Dance (on the Montreux recording), but the latter is a much more richly realized composition. Orion's Sword's melody (in inverted fashion) and harmonic treatment is also similar to Sporting Dance. Throughout the CD there are moments and passages that are very much what you would hear on a better realized and fleshed out recording.
I think just about anyone knowledgeable about Don's music would tell you this is the weakest recording he put out. I would agree with that. But as cited above, I think there are some good things here to enjoy. If they're not heard in the best context, they're still there for anyone willing to listen with an open mind."
Not Ellis' best...but essential for fans.
J. Waggoner | Chicago, IL USA | 03/27/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Kind of an oddity among the CDs of the Don Ellis Band, this was put together to capitalize on the success of Star Wars. Actually, for the time period, the Star Wars arrangements aren't too bad. The other pieces are mainly renamed works of Don's included to fill out the album. Not his finest work, but recordings of the "Tears of Joy"-style band with the strings are few and far between, so Ellis fans will still want this record."