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Pee Wee Ellis
Billed as "The Man Who Invented Funk", saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis brought a surprisingly relaxed performance to the stage of York's Theatre Royal this evening. Ellis, who was a member of the James Brown Revue for the latter half of the 1960s and has since collaborated with such eminent artists as Van Morrison, George Benson and David Liebman, appeared to enchant a modest yet very appreciative audience with two contrasting sets; the first consisting of a tasty selection of jazz numbers by the likes of Sonny Rollins, Billie Holiday and Cannonball Adderley whilst the second was dedicated entirely to funk. Ellis's current band - the Jazz Funk Assembly – comprises the talents of keyboardist Gareth Williams, bassist Laurence Cottle, drummer Mark Mondesir and guitarist Tony Remi.
Highlights from the first set included the Jones/Symes classic There is No Greater Love and the Carey/Fischer composition You've Changed, most famously covered by Billie Holiday. Both standards showcased Ellis's precision as a sensitive, breathy and often sensual reedsman, whilst his take on Sonny Rollins's Sonnymoon For Two was a solo-studded jazz tour-de-force, not least on behalf of Ellis himself who offered an accomplished and informed tribute to the Saxophone Colossus.
Glimmering with excitable flurries of keyboard from Williams and thoughtfully harmonic bass passages from Cottle, the funk-infused second set also benefited from Mondesir's flights of percussive fury, Remi's soulful wah-wah guitar and moments of high-reaching mischief from Ellis's faultless sax. Suggesting that the audience "shake everything", Ellis and co. picked up the pace with a veritable goodie bag of jazz-funk gems including James Brown's The Chicken, Herbie Hancock's Cantaloupe Island and a selection of Ellis's own compositions. After a rousing ovation from the York crowd, the Pee Wee Ellis Jazz Funk Assembly returned to the stage for a slow and funky rendition of Brown's classic I Feel Good, featuring a gritty, soulful vocal from Pee Wee himself.
And so, thanks to Yorkshire promoter J-Night and the incomparable hospitality of the Theatre Royal, another evening of jazz in York came to end, but not without leaving its mark on the memories of a lucky bunch of local jazz fans.