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Saturday, March 25, 2023

George Russell Sextet In K. C.


George Russell Sextet In K. C.
Original Swinging Instrumentals
Decca Records DL 74183

Don Ellis - Trumpet
Dave Baker - Trombone
Dave Young - Tenor Sax
George Russell - Piano
Chuck Israel's - Bass
Joe Hunt - Drums

From the back cover: During 1961 much was written about a so-called new wave of jazz that was said to be effecting radical changes in the face and body of this music. An inspection of works composed and performed by the artists allegedly responsible for this new wave revealed that it took several widely varied forms. In some instances modern-classical orchestration had been redesigned to incorporate jazz influences, or jazz writing has been expanded to assume many of the characteristics perviously associated with classical forms. In either case the result was mislabeled "third stream music" – as if the interweaving of diamonds and rubies on the same necklace had produced a third precious stone.

The less formalized aspects of the new wane shoed jazz improvisation in new forms, sometimes retaining tonality but reaching as far a possible into uncharted regions of harmonic melodic and rhythmic complexity. One much-publicized soloist went stale further, rejecting virtually every established election of jazz, from tonality to correct intonation, to establish an anarchistic music that seemed dedicated more to chaos than to progress.

George Russell, as the recored clearly shows, anticipated the most valid aspects of the new mood in jazz by many years and is the musical best designed to fashion and interpret whatever new essential jazz qualities may now be in the process of incorporation into the mainstream of 20th century music. His work is about as far from anarchy as possible. Ten years of his life were devoted to evolution of his own compositional technique. His "Lydian Concept of Tonal Organization" was commuted as far back as 1953 – eight years before the "new wave" talk began! – ands brilliantly reflected in the orchestral album Jazz In The Space Age (Decca DL 79219).

A couple of years ago Russell, who had made few public appearances except for occasional concerts at which he conducted his own works, decided to organize a jazz combo as an outlet of expression, not only for himself vvur for promising young musicians with whom he felt a musical sympathy, and who in some instances had studied composition with him. A previous album, George Russel Sestet At The Five Spot, gave a clear picture of the group's personality on Decca DL 79220.

George Russell Sextet in K. C. like the previous LP, reflects the less formal side of George's music, though in the course of these two sides you will gain a clear picture of the impact his ideas have had on the players and writer around him.

The album features some of the compositions that the sextet was asked to play in the course of a two-week engagement as a club called the Blue Room in Kansas City. "The musicians in K.C. Really come out to dig you," say George, "Fellows like Fats Dennis, John Jackson – the alto player who was with Charlie Parker in the sax section of the old Billy Echstine band – and Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson were in the audience every night. Our recording Tune Up, one of Eddie's great compositions, is dedicated to him.

The opening track, War Gerwessen, was composed by Dave Baker, the gifted 30-year-old trombonist for Indianapolis who established an immediate report with George when they were both at the School of Jazz in Lenox, Mass. in 1959. Baker had played briefly with Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson and had led his own band off and  on, later attending the Berkeley School of Music in Boston under a Down Beat scholarship. The title has nothing to do with war. anyone who has ever conjugated the verb to be in German can enlighten you further.

"This composition," says George, "features a 16-bar section written and improvised in the C Auxiliary Diminished blues scale, followed by a traditional 12-bar blues in F. The Auxiliary Diminishe blues scale is one of the scales from the Lydian concept. Its tones are C, C#, D#, E, F# G, A, A#." As you will notice, particularly in the trombone solum this scale gives an overall feed akin to a C7 chord.

Rhymes was written by Carla Bley who like Baker is a student of George's and a composer of obvious promise. A reflective piano introduction leads to the mainly-unison exposition of the theme, later branching into contractual tenor and trumpet statement that segue to a trombone solo. The valving and doubling of the tempo accents the intensity without changing the mood as the three horns are heard in sequence. The timing and spacing in a beef solo by Don Ellis offers a reminder of the deeply perceptive nature of this young musician's work. Ellis, the only new member off the Russel group since the Five Spot album, is a 27-year-old Los Angeles-born trumpet player and composer whose many years of academic trains have included, in addition to attendance at the School Of Jazz, private studies with several brass teachers and further work at Boston University, where he obtained his bachelor of Music degree.

Lunacy, also composed by Carla Bley, is far more ingeniously planned and executed than its disarming title should seem to imply. Using a phrase from Frére Jacques as a point of departure, it departs pointedly. There is a strong element of humor in the staccato interpretation of the them and Joe Hunt's underlining in this passage complements the horns admirably. Note George's sensitive feeding of the soloist, especially his charming during Ellis' solo.

Sandy, the longest and most informal track in the album, was composed by the late Clifford Brown, who recorded it in 1955 as co-leader of a quintet with Max Roach. Everybody has a chance to stretch-out here, and you know from the very first bar of Don Ellis' initial blowing chorus that nobody is going to resort to the easy, under-the-fingers, obvious notes. Each soloist has a couple of choruses on the regular 12-bar pattern before a four=bar break, followed buy further ad libbing in the third chorus. Dave Baker's break is just this side of incredible. The walking into and the later solo by Chuck Israels offers new evidence of the fast-maturing talent of the 25-year-old soloist, whom I first heard playing with Bud Powell in Paris in 1959. He's a New Yorker and has worked with Max Roach, Don Elliott and many other combos. Also notable on this tack is the impassioned, dynamically variegated work of Dave Young, who like Dave Baker was a member of the University of Indiana Jazz Orchestra. George Russell's own solo, first in single note lines and then in superlatively articulated chirping, is a string illustration of the recently-developed pianistic virtuosity of the former Benny Carter band drummer, as well as an example of the improvisational placation of his musical principles. "We found that the people if K.C. still love the blues," says George, "so Amanda was right in their groove."

Tune Up, in contrast to the funky blues mood of Sandy, is a spectacular yet never theatrical demonstration of the individual blowing talent in the group as a breakneck temp. Highlights are Ellis' muted contribution and Georg's coming; there's also a drum solo followed by some frenetic trading of fours by the horns.

The closing theme leads from trombone pedal points tiny some contrapuntal ensemble follows by a hard-swinging Dave Young solo. No Lydian concept was needed or used here; in effect it's Every Man For Himself in F Minor.

These sides reflect a lighter, more casual view of George Russell. But here as well as in him more ambitions undertakings the striking contrast between his work and that of many of the supposed new-wavers is immediately apparent. The musi is aggressive but not hostile, neoteric but not neurotic, ultra-jazz yet never anti-jazz. I wish that anybody, everybody, who wants to do something new in modern jazz could study with George Allan Russell. – Leonard Feather

From Billboard - January 20, 1961: More highly listenable wax for the avant-garde clique of modern jazz. Russell's group is in top form with the leader at the piano and a front line of Don Ellis, trumpet; Dave Baker, trombone; and Dave Young, tenor sax. The music is full of interesting contrasts of rhythm and harmony and it has a consistent swing, too. Russell's only writing chore on the LP of the six tracks is "Theme" but there are fine arrangements of tunes by Miles Davis, Dave Baker and Clifford Brown.

War Gewessen
Tune Up

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