Tribute To Paradise

by Ellen Christi & Gary Hassay

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"Though wordless in approach, using hums, sighs and shouts in addition to a dynamic repertoire of lyrical sound, Ellen Christi is a unique vocalist whose improvisations belie careful study of African and indigenous North American vocal music as well as a sense of soul that approach both Jeanne Lee and Fontella Bass. Long a fixture in some of New York’s most daring free-music contexts, she is joined here by altoist Gary Hassay. Hassay’s art, at least in this setting, is that of a restrained-yet-frantic improviser, coolly toned but acerbic when synapses call for it, an odd edge that has also imbued Marion Brown, Braxton and Konitz at his freest. Like Braxton, Hassay is also able to hit those low, tenor-like notes with a hushed vibrato, in many ways the perfect reed match for Christi’s bubbly and dynamic cadences. Several pieces feature Hassay in vocal duet with Christi, Hassay welling up sound from deep within his throat to match Christi’s sonorous lines—as on “Episteme.” Whereas the voice-tube antics of someone like Han Bennink echo throat singing, Hassay is a masterful practitioner of the art, splitting octaves vocally as Evan Parker might in an epic of circular breathing. In these two sets of duos, the conversant element has become as much about the exploration of what makes up words and sentences—in some ways much more elemental than dialogue. Relearning the production of sounds, strung together to create brief lines of communication while simultaneously reveling in the joy of having that very ability to produce sounds. So as we might say improvisation is a truly communicative art form, it is also one that gets at the very roots – the ‘dik’ – of communication."

- Clifford Allen, All About Jazz

"Ms. Christie is one of the most distinctive avant/jazz vocalists to emerge from the downtown network over the past two decades and is featured on a handful of recordings with William Parker and Jemeel Moondoc. Gary Hassay plays alto sax and I only know him from a couple of recordings on this same label, one with William Parker and Toshi Makihara. We were fortunate to hear Ellen doing her unique style of vocalizing this past weekend at the Vision series with Rob Brown, Roy Campbell, Henry Grimes and Rashied Bakr, since her live appearances are so rare. ‘Tribute to Paradise’ finds this duo quietly exploring their unique sounds together in an exquisite balance.

Both voices have a similar range and caress each other gracefully, bending their notes around one another. By the second piece, “3 Deuces Three”, they start to sailing and swerving together, again twisting their voices together as they explore similar terrain. Gary also vocalizes on three pieces and does a fine job of interweaving his voice with Ellen’s is a special, connected way. It sounds like there are few layers of vocals on these tracks, creating some marvelous, mysterious ghost-like disembodied voices and a bit of throat singing as well. This fine duo creates a very personal story or journey that unfolds slowly and takes us along with them to new places. Indeed, a very special and intimate experience."

- Bruce Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery

"Most improvisations are intrinsically doomed to vanish, but what was created by Christi and Hassay in this session goes much further than the short distance of a vague reminiscence. This music can scream or sigh, most of all it pants while holding for dear life; Gary takes his alto sax away from a meditative line and puts it around a chain of melodic oddities, all the way through spinning phrases hovering like a bee intoxicated by the barbecue fumes of a garden party. Ellen has a commanding vocal authority that makes her able to choose the right path in every context; you get free-style stutterings, (Meredith) Monkish hommages and in general a display of genuine virtuosity going after new dialects rather than post-bebop littlenesses. Pursing their lips, staring each other, armed with a deep-rooted love for what they do, this couple conceived one of the best duets you can hope for, the greatness of which – if what I just wrote is not enough – is demonstrated by the three all-vocal beauties they dedicated to mouthpiece craftsman Jon Van Wie, really thrilling stuff in an already considerable album."

- Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes

"Tras Blackwater Bridge (Gary Hassay y Anne LeBaron, 2002), disco que mostró nuevos caminos de confluencia entre el saxo alto y el arpa y que ayudó a redefinir las relaciones entre los instrumentos de viento y de cuerda, elevándolos a un nuevo nivel discursivo cuyos ecos perduran en la memoria del oyente, ahora Drimala Records ha decidido invertir nuevamente en el talento de Gary Hassay, saxofonista y creador del excepcional Another Shining Path, del trío Ye Ren, con William Parker y Toshi Makihara – uno de los mejores discos de 1999, a todas luces más que recomendable. La gran noticia es pues que Gary Hassay vuelve a hacer discos. Y ahora en compañía de la cantante Ellen Christi, señora de una elegancia vocal intachable que, de este modo, se presenta en esta propuesta de dúo resultante de la combinación sonora de las voces de dos artistas absolutamente fuera de lo común y que se inscribe en la serie de obras con las que el sello de Hampton, Virginia, profundiza paulatinamente en la esencia de este formato. En este sentido, la articulación vocal de Ellen Christi, fantástica cantante de free form, se ajusta como un guante a la sonoridad de madera del saxo alto del pintor abstracto Gary Hassay. Dos casos extremos de subexposición, en un mundo en el que la música improvisada de este calibre se ve condenada inexorable y progresivamente a quedar recluida en un gueto, en favor de productos y subproductos de menor valor estético y musical que inundan el mercado. Pero ese es otro tema. Volviendo a Tribute To Paradise, lo he escucharlo varias veces, con el placer renovado que se experimenta en cada nueva escucha gracias a la empatía, intimidad, armonía y voluntad de comunicación de los dos creadores. Christi canta con swing y sin palabras, en una sucesión de onomatopeyas (scat) de definición brillante y limpia. Hassay controla cada intervención con una intensidad impresionante, utilizando tonalidades y texturas poco usuales, desafiando al oyente en cada curva. Sobre Christi el diario The New York Times escribió: “Canta en un estilo fuerte y cristalino, improvisando con el fraseo de Albert Ayler y la intensidad de John Coltrane”. Esto queda igualmente patente en los tres temas en que el sonido de Christi se funde con la voz de Gary Hassay en un canto a capella de muy buen gusto. Vale la pena que el oyente haga el sencillo esfuerzo de intentar penetrar en el amago de sonido puro, dejarse mecer por los cambios de la coloración vocal de Christi, envolverse en los constantes meandros del saxo alto que enamora a la voz de Christi y se explaya en múltiples y sinuosas líneas melódicas. Parte del encanto de esta grabación radica en descubrir progresivamente los misterios de la creación musical espontánea, en el arte de descifrar estructuras complejas que al final se traducen en líneas melódicas de fácil comprensión. Conquista cuyo placer está felizmente al alcance de cualquiera de nosotros, desde el momento en que nos dispongamos a escucharlo con profundidad. La paz de espíritu que queda al final es la mejor recompensa que se puede esperar de esta promesa de “Nuevo Paraíso”."

- Eduardo Chagas, Toma Jazz

"On 'Outside the Box', the longest and penultimate track on Tribute to Paradise, a collaboration between vocalist Ellen Christi and saxophonist Gary Hassay, the two musicians enter from opposite sides of the soundstage. First Hassay wanders on, blowing atonal lines of approximate 8th notes, and then Christi arrives chortling carefree high-pitched flurries of approximate 16th notes. The notes float in their own tempi, and the artists seem to exist in his or her own world—two musical actors declaiming interior monologues in the same space. Yet as they continue, they take note of each other more and more until they join in a kind of emotional hiccupping that leads to a little bluesy ending. Such is the interaction of these musical adventurers. They open the recital with a melancholy lullaby. Christi punctuates her wistful melody with a soft “tet-tet” sound and Hassay harmonizes with air blown tunelessly through his alto. “3 Deuces Three” begins with Christi evoking a hip bop song and Hassay scampering as if to avoid the bebop clichés her line seems to invite. Instead her minor pitched scatting grows in intensity, as do the saxophonist’s skittering lines. “Mystery Within” starts with light jangling percussion that may just be jewelry shaken about. Christi intones a lament in a scale that, with its jangle of minor thirds and minor seconds on the fringes of conventional tuning, could originate in the Baltics or any number of places to the east. The keening sentiment is universal no matter how exotic it may sound to some ears. Hassay complements it with spare playing, providing comfort yet allowing Christi space. Only when she steps aside does he release his own song that softens the contour of the scale. Christi returns in full voice to resolve the track. On three tracks Hassay sets his horn down to sing with Christi. On two, “Episteme” and “Anodyne”, the droning long tones, including overdubbed tracks, are reminiscent of throat singing mixed with Laurie Anderson. The harmonies are resonant, but not enough happens to sustain the seven-plus minutes of “Episteme” and then “Anodyne”, which sounds like a reprise. Christi adds a melody over the overdubbed voices on “Circle of Life”, realizing the potential of their vocal collaboration. With “Fireweed”, Hassay and Christi close the session in full flight, darting and dancing around each other with lines that elude resolution and push their technique toward its limits. Yet all the while they hint at the limitless imagination they tap, both as individuals and in concert."

- David Dupont, One Final Note

"While the young thrushes with nice legs get the major-label contracts and the magazine covers, Ellen Christi keeps making fine records that too few will notice. She’s an authentic jazz singer, an improvising musician with a flexible instrument that shows surprising power when she needs it. Sometimes she is a second horn duetting with alto saxophonist Gary Hassay and at other times, shes’ clearly in the spotlight.

Christi shows great versatility using mouth noises on “Mystery Within” and building to almost operatic intervallic leaps. “From the Beginning” is an excursion into long tones and “Anodyne” is an overdubbed tour-de-force that sounds like a virtual Hi-Los singing Ligeti. Hassay joins her on vocals on this cut and drops in a little throat singing, to startling effect. A richly satisfying effort that’s just right in every way."

- John Chacona, Signal To Noise


released August 8, 2015

Ellen Christi, voice
Gary Hassay, alto saxophone, voice



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Gary Joseph Hassay Allentown, Pennsylvania

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