Review:John Ellis & Double-Wide, ‘Puppet Mischief’

(May 2010)

John Ellis & Double-Wide
Puppet Mischief
4.5 stars

John Ellis’ sophomore album with Double-Wide sets the pace for a hilarious, lyrical ride with “Okra & Tomatoes,” whose almost tongue-in-cheek rhythm calls to mind the sputtering of a motor on an old, rickety carousel.

In fact, the track is an engine for what follows: a series of highly narrative original compositions that conjure up images of carnival grounds and seem to tell the stories of the offbeat characters who inhabit them.

The vibe flows from creepy (“Carousel”) to pensive (“Dewey Dah”) to triumphant (“This Too Shall Pass”) , as the band patiently builds and creatively deconstructs melodic ideas against the backdrop of a steady groove.

And when Double-Wide puts roots down in New Orleans on tracks like “Fauxfessor,” the band’s full-time northerners have no trouble stepping up to the balance of soulfulness — which Gregoire Maret seems to bleed — and a smart-alecky silliness, which Alan Ferber masters, that’s demanded by Ellis’ compositions.

Meanwhile, performances by the swamp-based backbone of Double-Wide border on rhapsodic. Brian Coogan’s nimble Hammond-work shifts personae like gears, playing the part of the eery amusement ride one minute and underscoring Ellis’ emotional tenor the next, as Matt Perrine’s sousaphone holds down a dexterous bottom line.

Ultimately, each artist handles his own part with such individuality that you can almost see the characters develop within the changes, like the superhero represented by Jason Marsalis’ staggeringly mathematic drum and clap sequence on “Heroes de Accion.”

As in any good narrative, the light-hearted moments here are finally played out by their more dramatic counterpoints. And after a dirge-like unison refrain is laid down on “This Too Shall Pass,” the song proceeds to expand and deconstruct that concept until all that remains is a nostalgic ghost of the tune’s original self.

Puppet Mischief: Okra & Tomatoes; Fauxfessor; Dewey Dah; Puppet Mischief; Carousel; Dublinland Carousel; Chorale; Heroes De Accion; This Too Shall Pass.
Personnel: John Ellis, saxophone, bass clarinet; Matt Perrine, sousaphone; Jason Marsalis, drums; Brian Coogan, Organ; Gregoire Maret, harmonica; Alan Ferber, trombone.


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