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Jazz Review : Ellis Ignores All The Trendy Moves

October 10, 1986|LEONARD FEATHER

At Donte's, which is due to celebrate its 20th anniversary Oct. 24 (it's the second oldest jazz room in town, after Memory Lane), the perennial verities still hold good, as was demonstrated Wednesday by the appearance of the Herb Ellis Quartet.

Ross Tompkins, the pianist in this ad hoc group, is known in local circles as "The Phantom," though the name could better be applied to Ellis, who plays only in his home town when he isn't in Europe or busy on some long cross country tour.

Fortunately, Ellis has ignored all the trendy moves. He plays only one guitar. He doesn't produce notes or chords by tapping the strings.

Ellis tends to inject a little of the blues feeling of his native Texas into tunes that are not basically blues-oriented. In a number such as "But Beautiful," he will start off showing great respect for Jimmy van Heusen's melody, but little by little, he will work his way up to a flurry of sixteenth notes, then wind his way down into a repeated blues riff while Chuck Berghofer's bass and Jake Hanna's graceful cymbals keep control of the beat.

When he is not busy dreaming up swatches of chords, Ellis' lines are less guitar-like than horn-inspired; here and there are hints of Sweets Edison or Dizzy Gillespie. Certain moments, though, could be achieved only on a guitar, as when he and Berghofer strummed four to the bar while Tompkins and Hanna briefly fell silent. It is at times like this that the maturity, the sensitivity and the innate artistry of this respected veteran truly come alive.

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