Sunday, June 05, 2022

George Russell - Ezz​-​thetics and The Stratus Seekers Revisited (ezz-thetics records, 2022)

Best known as a composer and musical theorist, pianist George Russell had a burst of activity from 1960-1962, resulting in several influential albums, including the two collected here which are among his most famous. 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, with 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, trombone 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 ends the 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. I am a huge Eric Dolphy admirer, and his performance here is just out of this world. The Status Seekers sadly subtracts Dolphy, but tenor saxophonist Paul Plummer and alto saxophonist John Peirce play quite well and the extra piece in the lineup allows Russell to add even more texture and nuance to his compositions. Of the six tracks on this album, four are his with "Blues in Orbit" being the key track, music that is firmly grounded but imbued with the space age flair that was sweeping the nation as the Mercury program began to launch astronauts into space. The title piece "The Status Seekers" is a swaggering fast paced performance bouncing between written themes and wide open improvisational sections. Also impressive is "A Lonely Place" which is a deeply affecting ballad, with the saxophonists developing moving solos and the group as a whole providing just the right environment for Russell's ideas. This is a fine reissue, with excellent sound quality and well written liner notes completing the picture. Russell was an important figure, influential among musicians with his Lydian Method, but the music is very enjoyable on its own. Ezz​-​thetics and The Stratus Seekers Revisited - Squidco

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