For his 1956 debut as a leader, jazz guitarist Herb Ellis enlisted pianist Oscar Peterson, bassist Ray Brown, drummer Alvin Stoller, trumpeter Sweets Edison, and saxophonists Jimmy Giuffre and Charlie Mariano. Too bad he couldn’t get any good players… like God!
At the time, Ellis was a fixture in the Oscar Peterson Trio, having replaced Barney Kessel in 1953. And like Kessel, he hailed from the South (Farmesville, Texas, whereas Kessel was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma) and was a devotee of Charlie Christian, with a healthy dose of the blues and a touch of country twang.
Whether jamming on the uptempo opener, “Sweetheart Blues,” or providing lush chords and arpeggios for the ballad “It Could Happen To You,” Ellis shows he’s more than up to moving into the role of leader, no matter how formidable his “side men” are (even if one of them is his boss).
Like Ellis, Giuffre came out of North Texas State’s excellent jazz program, but this was their first recording session together. With Giuffre supplying clarinet and tenor and baritone saxes, and Basie alumnus Edison’s trumpet flying over the top, sparks fly, although Peterson contents himself with taking a backseat (providing solid accompaniment) for the most part.
The addition of Mariano’s alto on half of the disc’s eight tracks provides a more fleshed out “section” sound to Ellis’s ballad “Detour Ahead,” from his previous outfit, the Soft Winds, and his “Ellis In Wonderland” features several mood changes, like the book it borrows its title from.
Unlike Verve’s By Request and Master Edition series, which feature updated liner notes and bonus tracks, this is a straight reissue of the original album. But the tradeoff is the bargain list price: a steal at $11.98.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s July ’06 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.