Saxophonist John Ellis' new album, Dance Like There's No Tomorrow, opens with the low rumble of a sousaphone followed by the swell of a church organ and the rattle of tambourine. In just those few seconds there’s a clear indication that something wholly sanctified is going down. Enter John's deep, soulful tenor and as the song's title declares, everyone’s bound to be "All Up In The Aisles."
The North Carolina-native, New Orleans-disciple and current Brooklyn-based John Ellis has gone back to his Crescent City roots, forming a new band dubbed Double-Wide to record his third album for HYENA Records. He assembled the four-piece unit, featuring Matt Perrine on sousaphone, Gary Versace on Hammond B-3 organ and Jason Marsalis on drums, with a specific musical vision in mind. Although he'd played with the three musicians in previous configurations, the actual Double-Wide quartet went into the studio without ever having previously performed together as a unit. It’s a testament to Ellis' concept that the resulting long-player transcended everyone's expectations.
Ellis elaborates: "For the longest time, I've been wanting to make a record with sousaphone, and with Matt Perrine in particular. This all goes back to a memorable gig I did in New Orleans, probably around '95 or '96 at the New Showcase Lounge. David Torkanowsky put the group together, and the band was Johnny Adams on vocals, Herlin Riley on drums, Tork on keys, Matt Perrine on bass and sousaphone, and me on saxophone. Matt's ability to play the bass function on the sousaphone even outside of the normal tuba-as-bass vernacular blew my mind."
With the concept for the band in place, John Ellis thematically-structured the compositions around a timeless celebratory tradition—dancing. The songs run from the twisted urgency of "Three Legged Tango In Jackson Square" to the nostalgic wistfulness of "Prom Song." The New Orleans brass band sound is re-imagined on "Trash Bash" with the thumping low-end from Matt Perrine bumping the groove. There's dark and provoking modern jazz found on "Dream And Mosh" and gorgeous balladry like "Tattooed Teen Waltzes With Grandma." All evoke the dance-based imagery suggested by their titles.
As John Ellis has effectively accomplished on all of his prior recordings, he allows sadness to co-mingle with humor. That, in fact is, an underlying theme running throughout Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow. It’s most poignant moment comes on "I Miss You Molly" which was written for the best-selling Southern author, political commentator and newspaper columnist Molly Ivins who passed away while John was working on the album’s material. As John explains, "this song was a response to the sadness of her passing, as a symbolic dance for her and with her, perhaps. She's a hero of mine as someone southern, witty, and fearless about speaking truth to power." With quite the opposite emotion, "Zydeco Clowns On The Lam" turns the sounds of the bayou on its head in a joyous romp that comes complete with Gary Versace playing accordion. The album's title track, "Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow," is a full-tilt barnburner in the great organ-tenor tradition of Stanley Turrentine-Jimmy Smith and Gene Ammons-Jack McDuff.