HERB ELLIS Nothing But The Blues (Speakers Corner)
Containing exactly what its title promises, there’s a strong (rhythm and) blues element to this 1957 session, which dovetails neatly with the jazzier parts of Ray Charles’ discography, for example the albums he recorded with Milt Jackson co-headlining. The quintet, which also includes Roy Eldridge on squealing trumpet and Stan Getz, make a pleasant, undemanding noise. Ellis has that languid, precise tone that, to me at least, is typical of pre-McLaughlin electric jazz guitar, tempered on occasion with a slightly arch, playful undertone, notably during the spirited gallop of “Big Red’s Boogie Woogie”, which also finds Herb chopping out some lip-smacking percussive effects on his instrument.
It would be unfair to condemn the album as repetitive – despite five of the eight titles containing the word blues – but unfortunately there’s nothing to connect with emotionally here. It’s the sound of an impeccable group negotiating genre exercises for their own enjoyment, a musician’s album rather than a listener’s.
Speakers Corner have done their usual splendid work in reissuing “Nothing But The Blues” on vinyl, with period-appropriate packaging and a fine-sounding pressing. It’s a shame that, for me, the music fails to justify such fastidiousness.