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Liberty Ellman Releases "Ophiuchus Butterfly" on Pi Recordings

SOURCE: Published:

Street Date: May, 9, 2006

Guitarist/composer Liberty Ellman's second Pi recording as a leader, Ophiuchus Butterfly, is an initially striking and ultimately deeply satisfying set chronicling six musicians, ten pieces and one ambitious, personal and utterly mature sensibility. Ellman's guitar ability and style are undeniable here, but this isn't a “guitar" album.

“I've decided that the majority of my work will be writing my own music and creating albums," Ellman explains. “I'm interested in the idea of creating an album from start to finish and what that means in terms of the ensemble and the quality and the recording. To me, guitar chops are only a piece of that puzzle. It's more about creating a work of art from start to finish and however many guitar solos fit into that is just what the music requires."

The music, in any case, is remarkable. Whether it's the tight ensemble playing, rigorous writing, dazzling counterpoint and dauntingly propulsive--no, make that just plain funky--grooves of “Tarmacadam," or “Ophiucus Butterfly," the rich, eerie harmonies of the postmodern blues ballad “Aestivation," or the electronic/acoustic hybrid sound experiments of “Snow Lips" or “Borealis," these are bracingly original, detailed compositions performed by a sextet that's more than equal to their technical and emotional demands.

“I've been working on music that has a more ambitious, composed element to it, and I wanted to expand the ensemble to achieve bigger textures," Ellman recalls, “including having a really thick low end, which comes from wanting to emphasize the groove in the rhythm section, so the bass and the tuba provide a really strong bottom, sometimes doubling and other times complementing each other underneath what's happening with the horns and guitar. Then, I was working with much more polyphonic counterpart ideas, for which I needed two horns, so alto, tenor and guitar can play all these interlocking melodies at the same time and create this rich, contrapuntal fabric. That's why the group is constructed the way it is; it's really about the pieces that I wanted to write before anything else."

While this is quite definitely ensemble music, it's still music that lets the individual players express their personalities in its roiling, shifting structures, whether it's Ellman and saxophonists Steve Lehman and Mark Shim passing melodies back and forth, tuba player Jose Davila and bassist Stephan Crump doubling low-end lines or playing complementary but discrete parts, or drummer Gerald Cleaver acting as the fulcrum around which the pieces effervesce.

And everywhere that remarkable marriage of demanding compositional harmony and body-moving rhythm. “What I would hope to capture in some of this music is the emphasis of a really powerful and hypnotic rhythm but this exploratory and informed harmonic and melodic structure on top," says Ellman. “There's an intellectual feed but also a groove happening you could almost dance to."

“Music," he smiles, “that can bob your head and raise your eyebrow at the same time."


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