liberty ellman
steve lehman
mark shim
stephan crump
gerald cleaver

Review in All About Jazz April 17, 2006

Review in The New York Times May 8, 2006

More reviews

People wonder what the title means. I have a general facination with astronomy. Here is a link to information about a butterfly nebula resiuding in the Ophiuchus consellation:


Guitarist/composer Liberty Ellman's second Pi recording as a leader, Ophiuchus Butterfly, is an initially striking and ultimately deeply satisfying set chronicling six musicians, ten pieces and one ambitious, personal and utterly mature sensibility.  Ellman's guitar ability and style are undeniable here, but this isn't a "guitar" album.

"I'm interested in making a solid album from start to finish with regards to the writing, ensemble and the quality of the recording. It's more than just a document of the moment in this case. To me, guitar chops are only a piece of the puzzle. However many guitar solos fit into the larger scheme is just determined by what the music requires."

The music, in any case, is remarkable. Whether it's the tight ensemble playing, rigorous writing, dazzling counterpoint and dauntingly propulsive no, make that just plain funky grooves of Tarmacadam, or Ophiuchus Butterfly, the rich, eerie harmonies of the postmodern blues ballad Aestivation, or the electronic/acoustic hybrid sound experiments of Snow Lips or Borealis, this are bracingly original, detailed compositions performed by a sextet that's more than equal to their technical and emotional demands.

"I've been trying some music that has a more ambitious, composed element to it, and I wanted to expand the ensemble a bit to achieve certain textures," Ellman recalls, "including having a really thick low end, which can emphasize the groove. The bass and the tuba are sometimes doubling and other times complementing each other underneath what's happening with the horns and guitar. The alto, tenor and guitar play these interlocking melodies and create this rich, contrapuntal fabric."

While this is quite definitely ensemble music, it's still music that lets the individual players express their personalities in its roiling, shifting structures - Ellman and saxophonists Steve Lehman and Mark Shim passing melodies back and forth, tuba player Jose Davila and bassist Stephan Crump doubling low-end lines or playing complementary but discrete parts, and drummer Gerald Cleaver acting as the fulcrum around which the pieces effervesce.

And everywhere that remarkable marriage of demanding compositional harmony and body-moving rhythm. "What I would hope to capture in some of this music is the presence of a really powerful and hypnotic rhythm with this exploratory and informed harmonic and melodic structure on top," says Ellman. "There's an intellectual feed but also a groove you could dance to."

"Music," he smiles, "that can bob your head and raise your eyebrow at the same time."

Quotes and things....

"A terrific guitarist, Ellman plays with a rhythmic charge and a decisive touch." 
-Gary Giddins - The Village Voice

"I really liked it. I need to check this guy out! 5 stars."
-Bill Frisell, Blindfold test 
- Down Beat

"He's got one of the contemporary scene's most singular approaches to the modern guitar lingo."
-Jim Macnie - The Village Voice

"Orthodoxy is an incandescent dream."
-San Francisco Bay Guardian

"One of the pleasures I get out of reviewing music is the occasional surprise that results from hearing a new voice that has originality. Ellman certainly fits that bill. " 

"Talk about a talent deserving wider recognition." 
-All About

"... absorbing, challenging music from a guitarist who, like his peers Jeff Parker and Ben Monder, is keen on avoiding cliche. Definitely a name to watch."

"With his new CD 'Tactiles' Liberty Ellman emerges as one of the most intriguing, albeit unorthodox, guitarists on the New York scene today. An album of original, esoteric compositions marked by dense polyrhythms, dissonant, angular lines and an organic logic that ties the whole thing together in brilliant fashion..."
-- Bill Milkowski, JAZZ TIMES


"With a clear, sharp tone recalling Grant Green, Ellman forges an imaginative style that--in the tradition of such great innovators as Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk--is at once modern and classic."
-Adam Pearlmutter - GUITAR ONE 

"A guitarist cut from neither of the cookie cutters that produced legions of note-happy virtuosos and techno-geek fusioneers, Ellman shows his stuff as player and composer on a new CD with Greg Osby and Mark Shim that could make a lot of year-end lists."
-- Gary Giddins, THE VILLAGE VOICE

"Guitarist Liberty Ellman is much enamored of intricate melodies, and it shows on his satisfying new disc, 'Tactiles.' His compositions are snaky without being impenetrable, which is why his quartet sounds so relaxed and traditional even as it tackles rhythms and soundscapes that move well beyond swing."
-- K. Leander Williams, TIME OUT NEW YORK