Paul Ellis pays tribute to the Chinook tribe of the Columbia River Gorge on his new three-track release, I Am Here, and in the same nod acknowledges his musical inspirations with work that rings with the familiar while still being potently original. Berlin-School structures dominate the mix here, with powerful, criss-crossing sequencer lines weaving a minimalist foundation for soaring melodies. Along the way, the points of reference tickle the ear–downward-curling twiddles borrowed from Jarre, ominous bass lines ported out of early Tangerine Dream. That’s part of the pleasure of I Am Here, particularly if your tastes are anchored in the sounds of early electronic music. Nostalgia, however, is not the bigger part of the disc. It’s Ellis’ strong narrative hand as he guides this trio through symphonic movements as they progress. Tone and timbre change in each like new colors being added to a painting, the whole developing and revealing itself over time. “She Who Watches” starts the journey with an echoing thump on a drum and the high whistle of throat singing. A sinewy synth line pulls itself up out of the sound and blossoms into rich ambient chords. The sequencer comes in from a distance, and Ellis calmly builds the intensity in airy layers. There’s a great shift around the 10-minute mark that rings of Jarre, an extended sequencer arpeggio that curls in tight spirals around you then flares out into deep bass and spreading chords. “Chinook Wind” drifts in on a wafting sequencer pulse and a lightly sing-songy minimalist phrase. The simple cadence becomes a bit hypnotic, small shifts in key keeping your mind involved. There’s a great sense of expectancy, of waiting for something to evolve. When this track shifts into its second movement, it’s distinct and deliberate. The sequencing falls away, an undulating bass drone takes up the bottom end, rising and falling like a prayer chant, and Ellis brings in lush string sounds that vary from the high cry of violin to the grumble of cello. This is a beautiful, quiet passage. Then, out of nowhere, the sequencer jams back in like a jolt of energy and the piece moves off, not at high speed, but definitely at cruising speed. Later in the track Ellis lays down a very distinct Tangerine Dream vibe that will carry well into “1 AM On An Island in the Columbia River.” The slow, menacing open of this closing track is carried on the aforementioned TD bass twang. It emerges from a murk of synth sighs and electronic twiddle and takes up a heartbeat rhyhtm. Ellis deftly interlaces his sequencer lines into a polyrhythmic tapestry and sets his melodies free to fly over them. This half-hour piece is overflowing with expertly crafted sequencer work. The interplay is a pure pleasure to sit back and try to follow. There’s a wonderful sense of the artist at play and being very much in love with his sound as he takes it through its paces.
I Am Here is a vibrant and energetic work that all but demands that you play it at volume. It delights in its old-school roots and wears them proudly, making it a real joy for analog fans. Its optimistic spirit really works its way into your system. It’s feel-good electronic, a disc you’re going to return to often. An amazing set of pieces from Paul Ellis that should be finding a home on many “Best Of” lists come year’s end.
- John Shanahan, Hypnagogue