As soon as the first notes begin to play on “Via De Mi Rancho”, the opening salvo on Brian Ellis Group’s Escondido Sessions, you know you’re in for something special. There’s a hypnotic urgency in the organ/sax/drum combo. A slow build into chaotic energy that can barely be contained within the parameters of space and time, let alone your stereo speakers. This is a warp speed trip through acid-burnt bitches brews and psychotic reactions. This is elegant chaos. Escondido Sessions is four songs that gather up musical ghosts and specters of progressive and jazz fusion musical pasts and brings them forward for nearly 40 minutes of mind-expanding goodness.
If you’re not familiar with Brian Ellis, the guy is something of a musical genius. He also gets around. Not only does he front the Brian Ellis Group, but he’s also the guitarist in Astra and the sax player in Psicomagia. Along with Escondido Sessions, he’s also gearing up the release of another great album, At Dusk, an acoustic/synth collection of ambient and atmospheric songs he recorded with guitarist Brian Grainger. On both records, Ellis shows off his musical chops and diversity. But for the moment, let’s talk Escondido Sessions.
If there’s a through line here, it’s the late 60s and early 70s-era jazz fusion. Bitches Brew is definitely an influence here, at least in the rhythm section. Big drums, heavy, low end bass, and this underlying funk that lingers in the air like a dank haze. This is a groove album, for sure. At times, it’s as if Ellis is channeling Joe Zawinul AND Chick Corea, while Patrick Shiroishi is channeling an Interstellar Space-era Coltrane. It’s controlled chaos. It’s a beautiful thing. “Too Late For Georgia’s” seems to capture the true beauty of fusion, starting from calm and working its way into burning through the atmosphere. Along with those wild-eyed explosions of notes and rhythm, there’s a real Latin flavor here, bringing to mind early Santana group, pre-Altamont. It builds perfectly into a echoing explosion of raw-nerve fire. “On Peterson’s Corner” shimmies and shakes like a re-imagining of Davis’ “On the Corner/New York Girl/Thinkin’ One Thing and Doin’ Another/Vote for Miles”, but soon finds its own brand of West Coast fusion/funk that gets lost in its own musical maze. Ellis brings things into sharp focus as he brings everyone back in mid-way through with some great electric piano groove. “Memories of Pubby” is a rhythmic tour de force. Opening with a Latin groove you could slice with a knife it’s so thick, you’d think you were hearing Gillespie’s “Con Alma” from another dimension. The mood of this 11+ minute slow burn remains pensive. It has the potential to boil over, yet the Brian Ellis Group keep things at a slow burn. They tease you with spacey noises and saxophone spurts and occasional rhythmic outbursts, but the chaos just under the surface is kept and contained.
Escondido Sessions is an album to be savored. Altered state or not, this record will take you on a journey. It’s expansive, atmospheric, and dream-like tracks simmer and sizzle in equal parts. Let’s hope that the Brian Ellis Group have a few more sessions up their sleeves. The world needs more of this.
8.8 out of 10