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Ralph Ellison

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Ralph Ellison

Ba-Bap. . .he hit the snare so hard and so clean-right with the bass player, and each of Elvin Jones's four extremities went into motion. The piano played one of those thick McCoy Tyner chords with that deep thoughtful jazz sound that makes my body twitch ever so slightly with momentary satisfaction and anticipation. A split-second descending right-handed run from the piano and Bshhh. . .Elvin let the symbol resonate and moved in with his deadly swinging crisp high hat cht, cht, cht, cht, just as the horns stated the melody in unison a fourth apart.

Then, with a punchy five-note line the sax player began his solo. After that phrase he stopped and waited-allowing a few bars to roll by as he felt the rhythm and absorbed the harmonies the piano player offered in response to his line. With his head bent down as if in prayer, he countered with a longer, smoother second phrase that elaborated on the first one but then confidently let his last unresolved note bang out over the audience. I felt my legs moving under me and my head bobbing slightly, and my jaw began to open and shut tightly as if to sing the next phrase. As the solo progressed, I felt I had to hold my breath, waiting for each of the horn player's thoughts to finish before I could take a full breath. The phrases began to get faster and closer together until he was rapidly firing notes out of his horn, and there was increasingly less space to breathe. The notes came in clusters and bursts of creative energy. His ideas seemed to flow from deep within the realms of the unconscious until he seemed no longer to be in control of his thoughts.

Yet, despite the speed of the notes and ideas, he was completely in control and fooled everyone by deftly taking his time-moving slowly 'out' of the scale so subtly that the audience didn't even notice until five minutes later with sweat pooling on his forehead, he had taken his solo all the way "outside" of the music and continued pushing his band further on and outer still. Elvin came crashing down on his kit playing fierce poly patterns that evolved into a rhythmic game of tag with the horn player that just got more and more intense until at last the horn player reached way up and seemed to pull a screeching note out of the ceiling and scream out into the club, before physically bending that note back into the music.
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