Ellis Munk Ensemble : San Diego Sessions

There’s a mysticism about southern California; from the sun-soaked surfer souls that haunt its coastline, to the teenage loners writing the DNA of what would become modern skateboarding in abandoned backyard swimming pools, to the music scene that blossomed amongst all of it. Southern California was the mecca for true freedom in artistry and rebellion, regardless of what that art was.

Jonas Munk grew up in Denmark, but was obsessed with the culture of southern California. Surfing, skating, and music would prove to be things the Danish musician/producer would carry with him throughout his life. Being co-owner of El Paraiso Records, as well as being the guitarist in psych rock titans Causa Sui, afforded Munk the opportunity to connect to the southern Cali psych rock scene. One musician in-particular Munk connected with is Brian Ellis. Ellis played in bands like Astra, Joy, Psicomagia, as well as releasing several records as a solo artist. He’s a prolific figure in the San Diego psych rock music scene, but his music affiliations reach beyond psych rock and into fusion, funk, R&B, and prog.

Back in 2016, Jonas Munk flew from Denmark to Detroit for a recording session. Then from Detroit he flew into San Diego. He had just a few goals on this trip to southern Cali: surf, eat some amazing tacos, and then spend a couple days at Brian Ellis’ home studio in Escondido and see what kind of magic they could conjure up. Along with a few of San Diego County’s best and brightest psych rock musicians, Ellis and Munk worked up what is now known as San Diego Sessions.

Over two humid, beer-soaked jam sessions, Ellis and Munk led members of Radio Moscow, Sacri Monti, Monarch, Astra, Ocelot, and Psicomagia on a free-form music journey. A seven-track journey that ranges from absolute barn burners to moments of spatial dream excursions, San Diego Sessions is a raw, visceral, and unpasteurized testament to the spirit of both southern California, and to the power that music has in bringing us all together.

We’re met at the door by “The Wedge”, an all-out humid slap of psych rock improv of the highest order. It starts out in 5th gear and never lets up. Spaced-out synth, Hendrix-ian guitar squall, and some major drum power drive this track until the tires fall off. Dual guitars, dual keys, organ, bass, drum, and percussion give this song the feel of the Monterey Pop Festival circa ’68, with just a touch of Detroit City chug. We quickly drop down a gear or two with the exquisite “Pauly’s Pentacles”, a searing and simmering slow burn of a track that sounds like a cross between Vincebus Eruptum, Dark Magus, and Bernie Worrell freaking out over both.

It’s not all fiery psych rock and smoking tube amplifiers. “Munk’s Dream” is a short-but-sweet interlude that borders on almost ambient and space-y, while album closer “Stone Steps” feels like a lucid dream. The mysterious “Bucket Drips” floats along on echoing waves of guitar and Ken Hensley-like organ.

But this album burns the brightest when this ensemble is firing on all pistons.

“Electric Saloon” is mighty in its power. The squall of Ellis’ synth and Evan Wenskay’s organ is only matched by the guitar back-and-forth of Jonas Munk and Monarch’s Dominic Denholm. It’s an absolutely masterful display of musicianship and pure intuition. Then there’s the peculiar and genius “Larry’s Jungle Juice”, a frantic mad jam to the center of the universe. It’s like Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac joined forces with King Crimson for a night of absinthe, Molly, and space exploration. Pure mania; exceptional and frightening.

The production here is second to none. You’d wonder how good a sweaty, crowded, beer-drenched recording session could sound with a roof leaking and water dripping in every corner. Turns out, pretty damn good. With Brian Ellis recording the sessions and Jonas Munk mixing and mastering at his Odense studio, you’d never know that these two day jams were nearly washed away by San Diego rains. Or that the final session was ended by a power outage and a blown breaker box. Despite any meddling by mother nature, the Ellis Munk Ensemble persevered and by all accounts exceeded expectations.

San Diego Sessions is one of those rare occasions when a room full of musical geniuses came together and each shared a bit of their magic. Each of these tracks represent the shared love of creativity and just getting really, really loud in a small space. Vibes abound, Ellis Munk Ensemble’s San Diego Sessions was one of those mythical recording experiences that you have to hear it to believe it. Another time capsule of southern Cali artistry and rebellion.

8.7 out of 10

‘San Diego Sessions’ drops 8/14 via El Paraiso Records. Preorder it here

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