February marks big changes for the Charlie Hunter Trio: Saxophonist Dave Ellis is leaving the group. Ellis, 28, was a founding member of the trio (which includes drummer Jay Lane) when it formed in 1992. But it was Hunter that Blue Note signed, not the entire band, which effectively relegated Ellis and Lane to sidemen status. An off-the-record source says that Ellis blew it by opting for a regular salary rather than a percentage of gig fees and album sales in his contract, although he couldn't have predicted how well the record has been doing; now that Hunter reportedly won't get out of bed for less than two grand, Ellis isn't making close to his fair share. But now Ellis has an opportunity to make his own record, and he pinpoints his need to grow artistically as one of the main reasons for his exit. "I need to figure out what exactly is the Dave Ellis thing," Ellis says. Hunter calls the breakup an "amicable split." "We played together for too long," Hunter says, "and it was time for us to move on. We definitely plan to play together again." Though Hunter may not have helped things by hiring Kenny Brooks for March gigs before telling Ellis (who found out when Dred Scott called him to replace Brooks in Alphabet Soup), Ellis isn't holding a grudge. "The time was right [to split], and we both felt that way," Ellis says.
Despite dripping umbrellas and soggy socks, the audience at the sold-out Paramount Theater last Sunday welcomed Tom Waits to the stage as if he were a rumpled god, or at least a long-lost friend. Unshaken by the somewhat embarrassing profusion of applause (at the start of every song, at the finish of every song, after every comment, and after any lyric that referenced rain) and a barrage of hollered greetings, Waits responded with his characteristic offbeat humor. "We've missed you," someone yelled. "Where have you been?" "I'll keep in touch," Waits grumbled. "Next time, I'll phone." Drawing on the talent of horn player Ralph Carney, guitarist Joe Gore, bassist Greg Cohen, and percussionist Kenny Wollesen, Waits took a two-hour stroll through several decades of material with an ease that belied his five-year sabbatical from live performance. Between fun facts involving vultures, suicide statistics, and the dreaded Kwik Stop Drive-In, Waits did his praying-mantis shuffle during "In the Coliseum" and asked the assembled to accompany him on "Innocent When You Dream." Waits got so many standing ovations that he did five encores. As one of the many Waits look-alikes -- jazz spot and battered fedora -- put it: "Waits is the last great American hobo. He could've burped and we would've applauded."
By Paul Tullis, Silke Tudor