John Ellis & Double-Wide, "Puppet Mischief"

85 Billboard Rating

On "Puppet Mischief," saxophonist John Ellis' second album with his superb band Double-Wide, the former New Orleans resident who's now based in New York delivers a set that refracts jazz steeped in the who-dat nation through a hip Brooklyn lens. With the help of Matt Perrine on sousaphone and Gregoire Maret on harmonica, unorthodox contemporary instrumentation combined with irregular arrangements of the leader's catchy compositions help bring a soulful, funky vibe to the festive set. Ellis resists unleashing his bandmates on long-winded soloing (including restraining his own saxophone voice) in service to the sonic fabric of each piece. Every track shines, with particular plaudits for the carny-esque opener "Okra & Tomatoes," the horn-quartet beauty of "Chorale," the flamenco hand-clapped zinger "Héroes de Acción" and the most playful of the collection, "Dubinland Carnival," which Ellis has described as Fellini-like. With lyrical longing and careening mad dashes, "Puppet Mischief" so far ranks as the top-drawing jazz album in 2010.

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