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Brian Ellis

The Silver Creature

(Benbecula; US: 28 Aug 2007; UK: 3 Sep 2007)

In just two short releases for Edinburgh’s favourite independent record label, California treasure Brian Ellis has proven himself to not just know, but also be the absolute cutting edge of jazz-fusion in 2007. Heavy, his arrangements thus far have bridged the unimaginable gap between James Brown funk at its freshest, Miles Davis jazz at its most psychedelic, and Four Tet electronica at its ethereal and innovative peak. Free Way—his debut in Benbecula’s storied subscription mail-out Minerals Series—purportedly showcased his more experimental side. That claim actually means something now that we have his proper debut as a reference point.


Next to Free Way (which gloriously succeeded in all the ways Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid’s jams should have), The Silver Creature is warmly accessible, with more of a focus placed on impertinent rock rhythms than freeform experimentation. Ellis’ fuzz bomb bass melodies and their relationships to his digitally mangled acoustic drumming are more than capable of providing the backbone for the entire full-length. All it takes is a heartbeat and a soul to feel these vibes head to toe. Hell, even one out of two will do.


The record kicks off on a high with “The Morning After”. There witnessed for an intro is a lagging beat slugging away under a lightly funky bassline, peaceful guitar noodlings, and vintage keyboard work that remembers early prog-rock. This quickly (but not hurriedly) slams into an all-out classic psychedelic rock deluge that gives the impression of a band kicking it up a notch. From there, it dissolves briefly into Indian percussion-cum-hard house before coasting home on the glittering cascades of a space jam band’s ethnogen-fueled dream. Flying in the face of the verse-chorus-verse formulas that have strangled rock since the ‘70s, “The Morning After” is an epic and important piece of genre bending.


However (and this is a truly remarkable fact to those who have blindly taken in his sublime works before), the music released under the good name Brian Ellis is the sound of just one man all by his lonesome. He manages to play some 14 odd instruments with the freaky-deaky flavour and improvisational spirit of a live jazz orchestra. Anyone who doesn’t think technology has the ability to revolutionize and, what’s more, improve and enable unimaginably creative music is damned by Brian’s work.


“Night Trails” is another clear winner on an album bursting at the seams with Pro Stars. That cut sees Ellis bumping an upright bass-driven beat with Asian sounding strings into a fanatic, soulful cacophony of tweaking rave bleeps and the usual face-melting organic jazz fusion, elevating under an elegant trumpet drone in the last minute to a state of sheer aural ecstasy the likes of which haunts Prefuse 73’s dreams. “Home Cookin’” carries a subtle Frank Zappa tone one can’t ignore, with a notable horn section supporting a wah-ed out guitar and solid beat. The peak of “Flute Salad” invokes a bizarre but never unnerving hybrid of Jethro Tull and acid house before simmering back down into its keyboard pad and bongo-fueled groove. Fusion, fusion, use your illusion … may I face the immutable wrath of The Silver Creature for all eternity if this isn’t one of the most impressive albums of 2007. Brian Ellis exhibits all of the finest and most powerful aspects of recorded music, and deserves recognition as such.

Rating:

Author of blurbs, curator of playlists, and booker of shows, Alan Ranta has been plugging away at that music writing and programming thing since 2004. His brutally honest critical opinion has appeared in such publications as Exclaim!, CBC Music, PopMatters and Tiny Mix Tapes, and has been enlisted to help judge the Polaris Music Prize, Pazz & Jop, and Juno Awards. Based in East Van, he graduated with a BFA in music from Simon Fraser University in 2012. He's also a social media plague, cat whisperer, socio-political haranguer, Canucks fan, and one of the last remaining cowboys, with a butt that won't quit.


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