About 12 years ago‚ John Ellis did a gig with David Torkanovsky where Matt Perrine alternated between sousaphone and bass. Ellis liked the sound so much that the former Charlie Hunter sideman had Perrine play sousaphone exclusively on Dance Like There's No Tomorrow‚ Ellis' third disc for HYENA.
The effect is phenomenal: Perrine delivers the same buzzing foundation Phillip Frazier's tuba gives the ReBirth Brass Band‚ but the sousaphone also has the growl and howl of a trombone‚ with approximately the same range. The gospel-tinged opener "All Up in the Aisles" has a serious Second Line feel that's augmented by Jason Marsalis' wonderfully free drum work. Perrine's tuba effect also adds juice to the "here comes the big monster" hook on the alt-jazz "Dream and Mosh." At the same time‚ Perrine is a legitimate fourth solo voice that brings broad‚ meaty contributions to two delightful straight-outta-the-tabloids titles‚ "Three-Legged Tango in Jackson Square" and "Tattooed Teen Waltzes with Grandma."
Ellis' sound is as tight as Perrine's is broad; with short‚ sharp figures and an attack reminiscent of Maceo Parker‚ Ellis' tenor takes the same direct route to the soul Lou Donaldson has plied for years. Mind you‚ Ellis doesn't limit himself to tenor: His soprano sax on "Dream and Mosh" is killer‚ and his bass clarinet gives "Prom Song" an extra layer of wistfulness. Also‚ while Gary Versace's organ burns and cools‚ the overall effect has just as much John Medeski as it does Jimmy Smith.
Most of Dance is all about fun‚ particularly when Ellis stuffs "Zydeco Clowns on the Lam" with waltz‚ tango and Creole roots music to create a schizophrenic track that will have you bouncing at three separate speeds. Where Ellis outdoes himself is "I Miss You Molly‚" his tribute to the late great Molly Ivins. Ellis' writing is heartfelt without being maudlin‚ and the track's ride-out strongly sends the message that the fight isn't over just because Ivins has left us. I think Molly-whose last words to us were "Raise Hell"-wouldn't have had it any other way.