Musicians often wax hyperbolic when it comes to praising their compatriots, Alan Pasqua touts Jeff Ellwood as “one of my favorite tenor saxophonists on the planet,” he speaks from a place of heartfelt experience – Ellwood was part of the legendary pianist’s band for seven prolific years.
Their built in, seamless and dynamic saxophone-piano chemistry is the driving force behind Ellwood’s long anticipated debut album The Sounds Around the House – a multi-faceted ensemble date anchored by the groove-eclectic (ballad to swing, blues and adventurous bop) rhythm section of Darek Oles (bass) and Joe Labarbera (drums). Several pieces, in fact, are Pasqua compositions the two often played in the pianist’s ensemble. Ellwood, whose vast resume includes performing with Tony Bennett, Stevie Wonder, Joe Zawinal, Randy Brecker, et al, recorded the project as the fulfillment of a promise he made to his friend and bandmate, bassist Roger Shew, who passed away in 2016.
The impetus was Shew telling the saxman that he regretted that he wouldn’t be around to hear the album. Certainly, a brilliantly melodic, lyrical and improvisational player like Ellwood could create a masterpiece without that spiritual-emotional thrust, but the story adds depth and dimension to every melodic gesture, every sizzling solo and each flurry of notes zipping past on gems like Dick Oatts’ fiery “King Henry” (featuring the explosive sax duality of Ellwood and Bob Sheppard) and the snappy “Old School Blues,” which alternates from major to minor elements of the classic form with plenty of freewheeling improv to spare.
Offering balance to these energetic romps are selections like the graceful title track ballad (as much a showcase for Pasqua’s eloquence as Ellwood’s tender emotion) to the moody, gently exotic “Barcelona.” Long before he even reaches the solemn sax-bass closer (composed by pianist/organist Joe Bagg) “For Roger,” we’re aware without a doubt the saxophonist passionately fulfills the promise he made to his friend with this truly beautiful masterwork.