Tuesday, September 25, 2007

George Russell - Ezz-thetics (Riverside, 1961, Concord, 2007)

Best known as a composer and musical theorist, pianist George Russell was singed to Riverside on the recommendation of Cannonball Adderley. On this album he has a sextet with Eric Dolphy on alto sax and bass clarinet, Don Ellis on trumpet, Dave Baker on trombone, Steve Swallow on bass, and Joe Hunt on drums. Despite Russell's reputation as an intellectual, the music is quite accessible and enjoyable. The title track, "Ezz-thetic" begins the program on a swinging up-tempo note, Ellis taking a smooth and fleet solo before giving way to Eric Dolphy who imparts an extraordinary alto saxophone improvisation that is so unique that it just jumps out of the speakers. The twisting and turning theme returns to close out a great performance. Miles Davis' Birth of Cool era composition "Nardis" slows the speed of the music as brass dominates, and trumpet and trombone are in the spotlight. "Lydiot" is introduced by walking bass and then another Dolphy feature lifts things to immensely high levels before trumpet, 'bone and bass alternate short solos and the whole group comes back together for a swinging conclusion. "Honesty" picks the pace back up with some fine trumpet and alto, but the real clincher is the group's performance of Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight" which ended the original LP. Russell opens slowly, altering the piano to mimic early electronic music, before Dolphy comes in playing the familiar melody and using it as a springboard for an extraordinary solo. This new CD version is rounded out by two previously unreleased takes of "Kige's Tune." The first an excellent performance with great solos from Ellis and Dolphy and the second a little more ragged. I had previously avoided exploring Russell's music because of his reputation as a theoretical musician and I thought he would be beyond me, but the music is quite enjoyable even for a non-musician listener with no knowledge of Russell's concepts. I am a huge Eric Dolphy admirer, and his performances here are just out of this world. The liner notes are solid, featuring the original essay and Orrin Keepnews interesting although rambling and self-reverential update.

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