Music

Jeremy Ellis: Lotus Blooms

Dan Nishimoto

Let the PR machine sound off on Ellis' ill-fated trip to the PR islands. Instead, indulge in Lotus Blooms' bliss: all natural, organic hype, the type that make you want to shake shake shake or marinate with the 'phones for a minute... or sixty.


Jeremy Ellis

Lotus Blooms

Label: Ubiquity
US Release Date: 2005-02-22
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

Jeremy Ellis once again successfully fuses his extraordinary skills as a keyboardist with his excellent command of technology and electronic music on his second full-length album, Lotus Blooms. The record admittedly carries a made-for-VH1-behind-the-story story: Ellis goes to Puerto Rico for three months to study music and use PR rhythms as a foundation for his newest work; however, he loses all his recordings and has to start from scratch. Perhaps the clean slate helps him put his new experiences into perspective: "...once I was back in Detroit the sound just naturally occurred, the influences and everything I'd learned came back to me", Ellis says in his press release. The album does not actually rely heavily on Puerto Rican music, but instead finds a comfortable space for bomba and plena rhythms within Ellis' burgeoning vocabulary of beats, jazz and beyond, resulting in a furious fusion of Puerto Rican celebrations, bent harmonies, and broken rhythms, easily making Lotus Blooms one of the stand-out (if not Stand Up) albums of the year.

The album's opening tracks quickly support this idea(l) of fusion over specific form(s). "Take Your Time" is awash in poly-rhythms, wooshing vocals, sharp keys, and palm tree-laden beach sunshine. The quick clip commands the listener to listen, while the stutter step provokes a yearning to shake shake shake. Ellis' vocals take center stage, an exceptional move considering how he executes them in an unassuming manner. Celverly recording subtle individual takes, Ellis goes over-the-top using multiple layers, along with gorgeous counter-melodies, to push the melody in all the right places; when he finally stutters "do-do-do-don't", the effect could have been played out, but is instead played right because of this cool and patient approach. Ellis slows the tempo a tad to reflect on "These Passing Days", filling the headphones with throbbing keys, and smooching moogs and guitar licks that wash over the broken beats. Once again, Ellis' vocals take the melodic lead, but each line also functions as rhythmic counterpoint; feel the body uprock whenever Jeremy coos. Both pieces are exemplars of dance music that is both intelligent and soulful.

Ellis introduces his newfound tricks in two literal tracks, "Bombakiss" and "Cortano a Elena". The former grounds itself in a four-on-the-floor tap while Ellis' hard-syncopated piano punches a path above. With a combination of conga accompaniments and precisely cued drum sounds, Ellis fills out an entire composition with a bare minimum of instrument types. The piece amazes with its exceptional performance and intricate technique. "Cortano a Elena", perhaps a re-titled version of "Cortaron a Elena", carves a sharply accented rhythm that drives dancers to both herky-jerky and well-placed foot movements. Ellis' flat-toned but accented singing (his Anglo accent is noticeable only at brief moments) is actually vaguely reminiscent of Willie Colón in his prime on this plena rumpshaker. Note the monster piano solo that leads into a low-end bending breakdown before the final chorus shuffles out. Again, with relative sparseness, the track simmers at a consistent near boil.

The mouthful of "Callelunakarma" conjures a third world fantasy for the first world, but in fact forms the center-piece of the album with its incorporation of contemporary stylistic influences into four movements. "Movement 1" establishes an easy Groove Line bass and clipped, Arp-y keys that move with Stevie-precision. Listen for the sharp rhythmic attack that up-jumps at 1:40. "Movement 2" takes a more broken-beat feel as it stutters and spits its synchronized drums and bass parts out. "Movement 3" irons out the kinks of the rhythm that never completely take form in "Movement 2", speeding the song along in a wash of effects that pepper and push. Ellis solos sparingly, providing more harmonic filler as the song builds and propels itself toward a four-stomp, before relaxing back into "Movement 4", which returns to the pace and theme established in "Movement 1". The elaborate arrangements that connect the four tracks are impressive, but a condensed, and more telling, document of Ellis' mental database can be found in "Sonatina in C - variations". The maestro pushes Mozart's "Sonata in C Major" wherever his musical impulses run, one moment trilling with stately confidence, then hopping about on the introductory melody like an Irakere jackrabbit. The apparent studio-outtake (the piece closes with Ellis stopping abruptly and asking nervously, "All right, so what do you want me to do?") actually provides an immense summation of Ellis' ability to merge disparate styles, such as Latin syncopation with classical arpeggios. This synthesis forms the basis of the project and establishes the brilliance of Ellis.

Ellis saves the best for relative last, finally stretching out during the ninth inning appearance of "I Believe". A sensual groove that slows the roller-thump to a tender bump'n grind, the track features closely-mic'd vocals that shower from head-to-toe, as keys and synth effects gurgle in and out, tickling the sensitized nerves. A lovemaking track with more flourish than, say D'Angelo's "Untitled", but nevertheless perfect for crawling under the sheets to.

Ellis' success is steeped in his established reputation within both the electronic world, under his Ayro moniker, and in jazz circles, using his heavyweight musician chops. This dual citizenship is intriguing, considering Ellis is not a DJ, but a musician first-and-foremost. Yet, he has a DJ's sensibility and an immense command of technology that allows him to fuse the two with seeming ease and form literate sounds. Listen to how "Lil' 808 Thing" builds off techno tropes, while using conventional classical composition to pepper in rhythmic shifts and melodic changes through his varying drums and bass sounds. The merge is seamless.

As is the entire record a perfect blend. Many of the parallels that Ellis draws have been in place the whole time; he just reminds us of their profundity by reproducing them in a contemporary language. The one-man-band literally does it all, not unlike the Purple Royalty from not-so-long-ago, but with less ego. For now, he's just plain Jeremy, exploring what's on his mind. Let's see where he goes next.

8

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image