Guitarist Ellman has credentials to die for; the Bay Area native has been a sideman of choice for contemporary jazz's select unconventionalists - Lawrence Butch Morris, Steven Bernstein, arch iconoclast Henry Threadgill on whose superb Up Popped The Two Lips Ellman appeared a few years ago and the prolific Greg Osby. In fact this album could well have been A&R'd by the alto saxophonist/talent scout if Blue Note had wanted to put some of the money made by Norah Jones to good use.
Drummer Harland and tenor saxophonist Shim are both part of the crew of youngbloods who've been nurtured to a certain extend by Osby and I still don't understand why the latter was dropped by the label following the release of his impressive Turbulent Flow album. He sounds on cracking form here and really should have another record out under his own name. Anyway Tactiles is a showcase for Ellman's intricate and off-kilter writing above all else. It's one that is touched by Monk, Osby, Steve Coleman abd by extension Bartok - everything is set at odd angles, rhythmic and melodic shapes are jagged, meter jerky and jittery.
Stylistically, Ellman pitches his work in an undefined space between swinging post-bop, thorny avant-garde and ornate third stream and this bold post-modern synthesis places him right in line with some of the important independents such as Fresh Sounds and Sunnyside. Ellman has an understanted somewhat detached approach to his instrument yet his single note lines are not devoid of of sensuality and his spooky chording never short of a question or three. The result is 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.
Kevin Le Gendre