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John Ehlis Trio at Trumpets- Montclair, NJ

John Ehlis

What a journey. I only came for the late set but wish I had come for the early one as well. John Ehlis plays guitar and mandolin and did so tonight with his trio including a bassist and percussionist. Joining him were two special guests. Loire on rhythm vocal (yes you read that right), and Glen Velez on frame drums.

Ehlis doesn’t play what comes to mind when you think jazz club. This performance was a whirlwind trip through Epcot Center. He played songs from China, India, Pakistan, and more. Loire provided scat vocals and Indian drum rhythm singing that came out of nowhere. She approached the front of the stage in a black dress and memories of the Lost In Translation flooded my mind. Loire is younger and (as I was about to learn) humble. Nothing, not even the music I had heard so far, could prepare me for drum singing. If you’re unfamiliar, imagine singing the sounds a tabla makes; The sound fast rhythm on a tabla makes. Each of the tones has a name. Da, Ka, Ta, Ti, TiTa, Tin, Tu, Na, Ga, etc. Now try saying them as fast as Gift of Gab. Here’s an example from Bobby Singh:

Glen showed his mastery of the frame drum on top of each song. His VHS provided one of my first drum lessons in the mid-1990s. Seeing him in this setting was a treat. He had a wonderful solo and provided substantial flavor to the rest of the set. Glen is another unassuming, humble, and quiet soul. Sitting stage left surrounded by drums, the attention he drew was subtle yet unrelenting.

Of course, none of this would be possible without the visionary John Ehlis. He has gathered a terrific trio of musicians with impressive backgrounds. My lovely friend Elements reminded me of this show. According to her, each time John plays, the set is different, the vibe is different, and the experience is amazing. She knows him from his time playing music for students at the school where she teaches. We connected after the show in a circle of smiles and two-way appreciation. Keep an eye out for John. He’ll surprise and amaze you.

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