There’s something brewing in Southern California these days, besides the world’s finest Pale Ale and crystal clear surf rolling up the shore along the Interstate 5. Recently there’s been a pour of mindblowing prog-, psych- and free-rock in impeccable form out of San Diego County: Seamlessly merging jazz tendencies and extraordinary jam-abilities with crushing heaviness, electronics and a general out-there-ness. Bands such as Psicomagia, Earthless and Joy has earned SoCal it’s own unique spot on the worldwide map of psychedelia.
At the heart of all this, is one young Escondido native, Brian Ellis. A guitar virtuoso in Astra, saxophonist in Psicomagia as well as keys- and synth-wiz. For years he’s been cutting his teeth as a grade A session player in heavyweight funk-outfits such as Egyptian Lover, as well as a studio owner gradually turning into an esteemed recording engineer.
It was only a matter of time before he was gonna get his own group of local offbeat heroes in the same room and crank out a spectacular piece of prismatic, electric free-form jazz. And here it is.
Along with members from Radio Moscow, Corima and Psicomagia, Brian has cooked up two vinyl sides of seriously vital jazz-rock, taking up where Miles Davis, Tony Williams and Donald Byrd left off in the seventies. This music is a far cry from the self-absorbed European free-jazz or academic noodling one is likely to meet at any given jazz festival - no, this music is earthy, like, say, Hendrix at Woodstock, or Miles’ Live Evil - a pinnacle challenge of the past that has never met any really satisfying response from contemporary music.
There’s that unique sense of percussive drift that characterized Can’s records in the first half of the seventies - somehow extravagant, yet also subtle at the same time. The warmth of Brian’s sun-dried Rhodes and cosmic Moog-lines intertwine with Patrick Shiroishi’s Coltrane-inspired soprano arabesques. Trevor Mast’s thick bass lines and a multitude of tribalistic percussion keep it together along with a naturalistic crisp-sounding recording. It all adds up to a soulful tour de force of everything that’s great about the current San Diego scene. To be played loudly.
File next to: Miles Davis, Tortoise, Marion Brown, Joe Henderson, Can, Donald Byrd
Brian Ellis: Fender Rhodes Piano, Hammond L-122 Organ, Wurlitzer Electric Piano, Minimoog, Moog Subphatty
David Hurley: Congas & Percussion
Michael Hams: Drums & Percussion
Patrick Shiroishi: Alto & Soprano Saxophone
Paul Marrone: Drums, Percussion, Guitar
Trevor Mast: Bass
Rarely has the feeling of late summer twilight been captured as well on record as on this collaborative effort by Southern California native Brian Ellis and South Carolina ambient producer Brian Grainger. This is the sound of two offbeat musicians zoning out with acoustic guitars, hand drums, flutes and an array of vintage synthesizers and tape machines, brewing a mysterious, mellow kind of acid folk, like it’s never quite been brewed before. Though psychedelic in nature this isn’t yet another materialization of a 1970s commune-folk vision - rather it feels like a work of ghostly solitude, strangely absent from human activity, slowly, aimlessly moving forward like a lonely breeze travelling down the coastline as the day fades away.
Brian Ellis has been perfecting his raga-influenced guitar playing for years in the outskirts of San Diego County, absorbing the Takoma catalogue as well as British folk from the 1960s and 1970s, before deciding to merge his unique style of playing with the hazy sounds of East Coast synth-wizard Brian Grainger - an expert in sculpturing electronics in such a way that they sound like organic entities rather than electronic circuits. The result is a hushed, pastoral piece of music, evoking the rural American surroundings of its creators and its warm southern air.
This lengthy collaboration took place over several years - on one hand everything floats in a seemingly unordered manner, but on the other hand everything follows a crystal clear overall path. Ellis’ open-tuned guitar playing merges naturally with Brian Grainger’s faded synth lines and sound treatments, sometimes alluding to several styles and musical eras simultaneously, creating an atmosphere of ambiguity and timelessness throughout the album. Ultimately a serene, rare and kaleidoscopic work.
File next to: The Incredible String Band, Freescha, Robbie Basho, Six Organs of Admittance