…a rugged tenor saxophonist with a romantic streak that runs parallel to his experimental leanings…” The New Yorker - February 2013
— The New Yorker - February 2013
 
 

For the past thirty years Ellery Eskelin has been at the forefront of the global creative improvised music scene. Based in New York City, he has traveled widely performing, recording and amassing a very personal and iconoclastic body of work. And yet Ellery Eskelin has always remained deeply committed to the traditions of jazz and American music. Eskelin embodies this seeming contradiction with ease. He does not see jazz as a style or idiom but as a process. Further, a process of creative development that has great relevancy to our time. In this pursuit Eskelin consistently delivers to the listening public unadulterated, passionate music with no excuses and no apologies. 

Ellery Eskelin (born 1959) was raised in Baltimore and began playing the tenor saxophone at age ten, inspired by his mother "Bobbie Lee" who played Hammond B3 organ professionally in the early sixties. In 1983 Eskelin moved to New York City and in 1987 began recording with the cooperative group Joint Venture which also began his exposure on the European international touring circuit. Soon after, Eskelin formed the first of many projects as a leader beginning with a trio comprised of bassist Drew Gress and drummer Phil Haynes followed by a short lived group featuring Joe Daley on tuba and Arto Tuncboyaciyan on bakdav drums and percussion. In 1992 Eskelin joined drummer Joey Baron’s group, "Baron Down" (instrumentation of drums, trombone and saxophone), an experience that proved to be an important catalyst in his own work fostering an increased interest in new and unusual instrumentation. In 1994 Eskelin formed the group most often associated with him including accordionist Andrea Parkins and drummer Jim Black. To date he has written over 50 compositions for this group, each of which has been documented on a series of CD releases on the Swiss hatHUT record label. The band has toured regularly and performed hundreds of concerts in the US, Canada and throughout Europe during the past twenty years.

 

Eskelin's most recent project is "Trio New York" featuring organist Gary Versace and drummer Gerald Cleaver. "Trio New York" takes a free approach to the great American songbook, bringing Eskelin full circle to his musical beginnings while addressing his varied musical journeys since then.

Along the way Eskelin has done a number of side projects including a group featuring guitarist Marc Ribot and drummer Kenny Wollesen dedicated to the music of Gene Ammons, improvisatory duos with Dutch drummer Han Bennink, an improvising ensemble consisting of strings, vibraphone and saxophone and most recently a group featuring Susan Alcorn on pedal steel guitar and bassist Michael Formanek. Over the years Eskelin has developed a number of other important associations with musicians such as Gerry Hemingway, Mark Helias, Sylvie Courvoisier, and Bobby Previte. As a side-person Eskelin has worked with a broad cross section of jazz, avant-pop and new-music figures such as organist Brother Jack McDuff, composer Mikel Rouse, guitarist Eugene Chadbourne, oud player and composer Rabih Abou-Khalil, drummer Daniel Humair and the pseudo-group "The Grassy Knoll" among many others.

Eskelin's recordings as a leader and co-leader (there are currently twenty six) have been named in Best of the Year critics' polls in the New York Times, The Village Voice , and major jazz magazines in the US and abroad. He also appears on over fifty recordings as a side person. DownBeat Magazine named Eskelin as one of the 25 Rising Stars for the Future in its January 2000 issue ("...players who not only insure the music's survival but promise to take it to the next level") as well as including him in their Annual Critics Polls nearly every year since then. Eskelin was a nominee for the prestigious Danish Jazzpar award in 2003 and was the recipient of a Chamber Music America French-American Exchange grant in 2007 and in 2014 as well as a Chamber Music America New Jazz Works grant in 2009.

 

PRESS

“…he is a genuine master…with an original voice and command of the saxophone shaped by a legacy running from Coleman Hawkins to Evan Parker.” (The New York City Jazz Record, September 2016)

"…Eskelin’s rough-hewn tenor is one of modern jazz’s most readily identifiable sounds." (Point of Departure, 2011)

"A major player in today's creative music" (Down Beat, September 1995)

 "...brilliant and consummately versatile..." (Time Out New York, December 2008)

"...a powerful soloist brimming with ideas and limitless imagination..." (Time Out London, May 2009)

"a wily tenor saxophonist who keeps both feet in the present while judiciously reconsidering the jazz tradition…" (The New Yorker - July 2013)

 “Eskelin’s warm sound and flowing melodic invention may be the first things to catch a listener’s attention. He has one of the great tenor sounds...” (The New York City Jazz Record - December 2013)

 "...Eskelin continues to be the most inventive American tenor player in creative music..." (Down Beat Nov. 1996)

"Ellery Eskelin, a rugged tenor saxophonist with a romantic streak that runs parallel to his experimental leanings…"  (The New Yorker 2013)

"In ten years he has built a catalogue of works of amazing quality which will probably soon be regarded as the most significant and original contribution to the jazz of the 1990s." (Coda Magazine, January 2001)

"An imaginative, daring improvisor...The tenor saxophonist favors long sinuous phrases with enough twists and turns to keep his solos in a state of surprise, and his edgy tone lets you know it's all animated by a cagey authority" (Village Voice, March 1999)

"...he's come up with a startlingly new concept, a new approach to structuring jazz work and stimulating improvisations..." (****1/2 stars DownBeat, January 1997(

"Eskelin could get away with murder. That tone is all the alibi he'd need...incarnating the horn's romantic tradition while inking fresh initials on it's tattooed heart." (Jazziz, January 1997)

"He's managed to find his own unique space in the avant-jazz sphere..." (Time Out New York, November 1-8, 2001) 

"Eskelin's work is completely of the moment: a gorgeous, rocking, diffuse current of improvised sound that is unique even in the progressive jazz world." (Seattle Weekly, October 25, 2000)

"Eskelin has long forged his own path." (Point of Departure, 2011)

a "Tenor original" (Pulse)

"One of the great emergent talents of our time" (Down Beat, June 1996)

"One of the important jazz figures of his generation" (The Villager, NYC, July 13th, 1994, NYC)

"...one foot firmly in the tradition, the other in the cosmos..." (Time Out New York, August 2000)

"Tenor saxophonist, Ellery Eskelin is without a doubt one of the most important figures in modern jazz improvisation."  (allaboutjazz.com)

"...a range of technical / emotional / sonic vocabulary and a bounty of ideas equaling or exceeding anyone who's ever broken in a reed."  (allaboutjazz.com)

"On tenor sax, Eskelin is The Man -- quite possibly one of the two or three best tenors on the scene." (Motion - Interactive Services for New Music)

“Slyly inventive, ever engaging...”  (Time Out New York, 2013)

"His singular tone and fractious cadences have graced numerous efforts, but it is while working mercurial variations on his own inimitable compositions that Eskelin’s unconventional approach is best heard." (Point of Departure, 2011)

 

Press for Ellery Eskelin w/Andrea Parkins & Jim Black

"From bright, punky melodies to diaphanous ruminations, the leader and his cohorts touch on practically every imaginable musical base - to the point that Eskelin is loath to call his group a jazz band. Certainly, his own playing is steeped in the blues, retaining an affable warmth and lanky swing even at its most abstract. Limbs flying in all directions, Black plays with unorthodox techniques that have yet to be named, let alone described. Sentimental kitsch and disquieting rumble emanate in equal measure from Parkins's bellows. On piano, she girds the band with stately figures; a moment later, she may steer her colleagues into a hall of fun-house mirrors with her sampler, occasionally pitting Eskelin against his own horn in an impromptu duet. Together, the three have taken jazz to previously unexplored areas; their string of hatOLOGY releases is without question one of the signal oeuvres of '90s improv." (Steve Smith, Time Out New York).

"Ellery Eskelin is a gifted tenor saxophonist whose bold, pungent tone, remarkable range and uncanny facility on the instrument should naturally rank him right up there with the leading lights of today's jazz scene. And yet, his experimental streak often places him well beyond the walls of the jazz establishment. Hence, Eskelin is an outcast, a Herculean player with an extremely fertile imagination who remains keen on collaborating with musical upstarts who also defy convention. On the adventurous The Secret Museum he has found some real kindred spirits indeed in keyboardist Andrea Parkins and the superb drummer/percussionist Jim Black. " (Jazz Times Magazine, May 2001)

"To me, it's just not a satisfying musical year without a document from this band. Thankfully, they're as vital and idiosyncratic, as gorgeously strange as ever." (Dusted Reviews, March 2007)

"More than a decade into its collective existence, the trio of tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, accordionist-keyboardist Andrea Parkins and percussionist Jim Black shows no sign of settling into a predictable groove." (Time Out New York / November, 2006)

"Together, the three have taken jazz to previously unexplored areas; their string of hatOLOGY releases is without question one of the signal oevres of '90s improv.". (Time Out New York, May 2004)

"Taken as a whole, the seven records on which the trio performs constitute a body of work as consistent as any since the glory days of the Coltrane Quartet's run on the Impulse label..." (Signal to Noise)

"...the listener should come to expect the unexpected. It's partly about Eskelin's blustery lines intermixed with Parkins' swirling accordion maneuvers and Black's odd-metered backbeats. At times, the trio moves forward with the semblances of a rumbling freight train, via driving pulses and moments of compositional deconstruction. Nevertheless, the musicians seem equally comfortable when either engaging in a bit of controlled mayhem or executing trance-like choruses and soul-searching lyricism. This is yet another superb effort by one of the best groups in the business". (All Music Guide)

"...his group has made the virtually miraculous discovery of playing new jazz that isn't 1) hopelessly traditional or 2) hopelessly experimental...Arcanum Moderne is the eighth release by this trio, and, like its predecessors, is an excellent example of how vibrant jazz can be in a world where rock, hip-hop and electronic music are the dominant forms of artistic music expression." (Pitchfork Media)

"One of the truly great working bands out there, fast approaching the 10-year mark, this trio continues to create weird, bewitching music at the highest level. Equal parts brains and booty..this album raises the bar yet again." (Cadence, October 2003)

"The basis for this outing relates to tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin's references to "imaginary" musical works - the bulk of this material is centered upon the trio's improvisational acumen. Few would argue that this ensemble is perhaps one of the finest units in progressive jazz." (Downbeat Magazine, July 2002)

"Some people will probably criticize this "devious" album but, honestly, it feels like a breath of fresh air and reaffirms Eskelin's position as a true creator." (March, 2001, www.allmusic.com)

"Their music has rarely sounded so effortless and straightforward...This is smart, complex music, but it never lacks heart." (Down Beat Magazine, May 2001)

"The three players have now traveled the same wavelength for so long that they have become part and parcel of the same advanced organism." (Signal to Noise #22, summer 2001)

"This is some enjoyably organized madness which needs to be heard to be believed." (Signal to Noise/issue#12 july aug 1999) 

"The album's production and sound quality are superb, bringing the organic percussion and saxophone tones together with Parkins' more modern keyboards in a way that, despite sounding a little unusual at first, is ultimately coherent and tastefully done. All in all, Kulak 29 & 20 is an excellent album from one of the more groundbreaking jazz trios of the late '90s." (All Music Guide)

"...recorded live at Kulak, Berikon, Switzerland, on October 29 and 30, 1997, by the innovative trio... This bravura track shows this trio at their best - both in their imaginative reconstructions and recombinations of generic material, and in their tremendous instrumental ability and appeal...Kulak, 29 & 30 is a fascinating document of one of today's top trios at work. Don't miss it." (www.allaboutjazz.com)

"Saxophonist Eskelin's longtime working band, which includes accordionist Andrea Parkins and drummer Jim Black , is among the most intensely creative in jazz." (San Jose Mercury News, April 2005)

"As their numerous Hatology CDs have demonstrated, this is a heady trio, one of the best working groups in improvised music, blending influences from across the contemporary spectrum..." (The Village Voice, NYC April 2005)

"A perfect example of a band that knows how to play simultaneously from the head and the heart, and for whom musical risk-taking has become a way of life." (Saturday June 7, 2003 / The Guardian, UK)

"Harsh one moment, hushed the next, the unusually configured outfit - accordion/sampler, drums, tenor - has an elastic attitude that seldom belies its distinct personality. Their collective rapport is phenomenal." (Village Voice November 2004)

"Coming from Baltimore, Eskelin's compositions have much in common with fellow Baltimorean John Waters' films. They mine the tradition for its contradictions and use those as a place to build something new that can only be marked with an individual signature...This is one of America's truly great offerings to the music of the world." (All Music Guide)