Liberty Ellman: Radiate

Liberty Ellman's first album in nine years makes the case that he should be composing and recording more often.

Liberty Ellman


Label: Pi
US Release Date: 2015-08-21
UK Release Date: 2015-09-18
Label website
Artist website

Jazz guitarist Liberty Ellman hasn't released a solo album since 2006's Ophiuchus Butterfly. During that time, he has been a member of Henry Threadgill's ever-active Zooid ensemble, producing in and performing with the modern jazz collective through their four most recent albums. So it should be to no one's surprise that his 2015 album Radiate sounds like it didn't fall far from the Zooid tree. So much so that the opening track "Supercell" sounds like it has yet to fall out of said tree. You can't really blame him. In an era where we are surrounded by derivative music, Henry Threadgill stands out from the crowd ten times over. From day one of his career, the man seems driven to obliterate the traditional jazz chart as we know it. With a boss as cool as that, how could he not rub off on you? Ellman beats his critics to the punch in Radiate's liner notes by expressing his gratitude this way: "Thanks to Henry Threadgill for being a well of inspiration."

For those of you unfamiliar with the Zooid sound itself, it's as difficult to take in as it is to describe. Many of the instruments sound like they are operating independently. Tuba and trombone rarely rely on pedal tones and the drummer never just gives a straight away beat. The lead instrument, sometimes sax and sometimes guitar, will play a sharply articulated melody that seems keen on its very own mode of scale. Put it all together and you get some pretty far-out results. Many of these traits are on display with "Supercell". Jose Davila makes his tuba bounce up, down, and all around as trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson and alto saxophonist/fellow Pi recording artist Steve Lehman peck their way over the top. In between is Ellman, splaying out weird arpeggios that are maybe one step removed from his regular day job. Drummer Damion Reid puts his focus into the heavy syncopation that somehow guides the piece. Bassist Stephan Crump knows where to go and what to do in all of this, and I certainly think that's saying a lot. Just a little bit past "Supercell"'s halfway point, everyone begins to align on a rhythmic pattern that goes from one note to a mere pair of notes. This is how Finlayson and Davila toss coal into the oven, allowing Lehman to take over. Is this a lapse into the ancient jazz art of vamping behind someone else's solo?

Forget about it. Ellman and the band are back to over-the-shoulder gestures on "Rhinocerisms". The beat feels lost in the rhythm, Lehman provides the vamp, and Jose Davila begins the song with a trombone lead. When Finlayson lines up with Lehman, the group is scooping from that sweet Threadgill well again. "A Motive", "Vibrograph", and "Enigmatic Runner" are overflowing with hard attacks that are woven deeply into the ensemble's sound. With songs like these, showboating isn't necessary. "Enigmatic Runner" itself is able to halt on a dime, making it an effective album closer.

Two tracks are set aside for impressionistic mood-setting. "Furthermore" is the denser of the two and more prone to post hard-bop fury. "Moment Twice" represents the other side of the coin by spinning gentle guitar with simmering drums in less than two minutes. Taken together, they help give Radiate a well-rounded feeling. It's hard to believe that this is only Liberty Ellman's fourth album, but he has come a long, long way since 1998's Orthodoxy. Hopefully he can nurture this solo career of his a little more frequently from now on, because further development of the formula could be sweeter than the well from which it came.





On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.


Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.


That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.


Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.


Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.


Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.


'Thor: Ragnorak' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.


Alps 2 and Harry No Release Eclectic Single "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" (premiere)

Alps 2 and Harry NoSong's "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" is a dizzying mix of mangled 2-step rhythms and woozy tranquil electronics.


Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings Team for Wonderfully Sparse "Where Or When" (premiere)

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings' "Where Or When" is a wonderfully understated performance that walks the line between pop and jazz.


Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.


Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.