Jonathan Finlayson / Jose Davila / Steve Lehman / Liberty Ellman / Stephan Crump / Damon Reid

November 11, 2020

Last Desert

Pi Recordings P185

Taking time to head up a rare leadership session, Brooklyn-based guitarist Liberty Ellman appears to have internalized in his compositions and arrangements lessons picked up during his tenure in Henry Threadgill’s Zooid. Ellman, who also produced and mixed some of that AACM saxophonist’s disks, has obviously been inspired by sounds he helped create. Still as someone who also has been part of ensembles headed by other archetypes such as Myra Melford and Adam Rudolph, this CD’s seven tracks are reminiscent not imitative

Another part of demarcation is while most tracks are defined by the paced throb from the tuba of Jose Davila, another former Zooid member, players who have experience with a multiple of other bands fill the other slots. Leader of his own bands, alto saxophonist Steve Lehman fills out the tunes with Threadgill-like voicing, while trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson and drummer Damion Reid create inspired theme variations. The latter two’s pliable creativity is most obvious on the two-track title tune. Refined from saxophone peeps, and tuba snorts, the trumpeter’s notes add a cherry fluidity in his solo. The concept is further refined on the next track as stacked horn lines response to canny prods from Ellman and colorful strops and ruffs from Reid invigorate the narrative before it’s brought to a brassy finale by Finlayson.

Other tracks give the guitarist space to show off his clean and balanced extensions (“The Sip”), or demonstrate how downwards frails and rapid strokes can further intensify the theme advanced by brassy bites from Finlayson (“Rubber Flowers”). The disc finishes off in fine fashion on “Liquid” when Reid’s martial beats and rolls keep the continuously undulating rhythm going as the narrative is decorated with unison horn blasts and snappy guitar twangs.

While the sextet doesn’t fare that well on the more languid sections, overall it creates a snazzy bouncy disc that will be welcome by fans of Zooid as well as Ellman’s other work.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. The Sip 2. Last Desert I 3. Last Desert II 4. Rubber Flowers 5. Portals 6. Doppler 7. Liquid.

Personnel: Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet); Jose Davila (tuba); Steve Lehman (alto saxophone); Liberty Ellman (guitar);Stephan Crump (bass) and Damion Reid (drums)