George Russell (p), Don Ellis, Thad Jones (tp), Dave Baker (tb), Eric Dolphy, John Pierce, Paul Plummer, Dave Young, John Gilmore (reeds), Steve Swallow, Chuck Israels (b), Joe Hunt, Pete LaRoca, Albert 'Tootie' Heath (d), Sheila Jordan (vcl)
Reference: FSRCD 848
Bar code: 8427328608480
This 4-CD box set contains all the Decca & Riverside albums recorded by the George Russell Sextet & Septet between 1960 and 1962 plus two live recordings: a 1960 concert at Music Inn, and a 1964 performance at the Newport Jazz Festival. Including a 36-page booklet with session details, photos, original art & liner notes.
-At the Five Spot (Decca DL 79220) 1960
-Stratusphunk (Riverside RS 9341) 1960
-In K.C. (Decca DL 74183) 1958
-Ezz-thetics (Riverside RS 9375) 1961
-The Stratus Seekers (Riverside RS 9412) 1961
-The Outer View (Riverside RS 9440) 1962
Already recognized as one of the most gifted and innovative jazz composers, in 1960 George Russell added a new string to his bow, as pianist and leader of a remarkably individual series of sextets which narrowed the gap between free-blowing jazz and written chamber jazz. All were cooperative ventures whose success was due as much to his ability to attract and stimulate men sympathetic to his musical goalsand to draw the utmost from themas to his gifts as composer and arranger. A pianist whose chord voicings still sound strikingly fresh, he had a way of accenting that, like Thelonious Monks, was totally unpredictable.
His original sextet had a hard-swinging rhythm section and three potent hornmen: fierce-toned trumpeter Al Kiger, gruff trombonist Dave Baker, and the intense tenor of Dave Young. In 1961 avant-gardist Don Ellis replaced Kiger, and although Eric Dolphy was the most flamboyant soloist in this set, others like trombonist Garnett Brown and saxophonists John Pierce (alto) and Paul Plummer (tenor), showed great promise.
Apart from some jazz standards, most pieces here are Russell originals, although Baker, Kiger and pianists Carla Bley and David Lahm, applying concepts acquired while they were studying under Russell at the Lenox Jazz School, also wrote for the group, which was filled with the most impressive and interesting fresh young talent around.
"While he did play the piano, George Russell is best known as a free thinking composer and arranger who changed the direction of jazz by using various unorthodox chordal patterns in his songs, setting the stage for the modal revolution later lead by Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy. Here, youve got a set that find Russell at his most creative and exciting, with fantastically interesting booklet that include personnel listings, original liner notes, historical background and vintage pictures, so you get an eyeful as well as an earful.
The four disc collection includes the once-rare At the Five Spot where Russell with Al Kiger/tp, Dave Baker/tb, Dave Young/ts, Chuck Israels/b and Joe Hunt/dr tear apart Coltranes Moments Notice and feast on Miles Davis Sippin At Bells. The same team gets together on Stratusphunk and Carla Bleys Lambskins (one of Russells favorite composers), but its when free thinking trumpeter Don Ellis replaces Kiger on the next couple sessions that things get exciting. Youre gonna need a protective mask, as sparks fly all over the place on Miles Davis Tune Up and Clifford Browns Sandu. Then, the ante gets upped once again as Eric Dolphy jumps into the party with a new team of Baker/tb, Steve Swallow/b, Joe Hunt/dr and Russell and does wonders on Round Midnight and Nardis while Dave Bakers Honesty is a tour de force. Baker, Swallow and Ellis get back together on the next session that includes forward thinking pieces like Blues In Orbit and The Stratus Seekers.
By 1962, Russell was at the peak of his creative juices and his album The Outer View displays uncanny originality and vision. He brings together Ellis, Swallow, Pete La Roca/dr, garnett Brown/tb and Paul Plummer/ts for a spooky read of You Are My Sunshine that debuts vocalist Sheila Jordan, while Charlie Parkers Au Privave will get your head spinning. Also included are a handful of pieces of Russell at the 1964 Newport Jazz Festival with Thad Jones/ct, Brian trentham/tb, John Gilmore/ts, Steve Swallow/b and Albert Heath/dr for some exciting reads of The Outer View, Stratusphunk and Volupte while Jordan another read of Sunshine. The fact that this music still sounds exciting without a hint of being dated serves as a challenge to todays hipsters. Listen to the master-four discs of inspiration!"
-George W. Harris (July 6, 2015)
"The attention devoted to Russells theoretical contribution to jazz development may give an impression of him as a remote figure, but this very welcome box soon removes that idea as we find him at the piano in the heart of his sextet and even providing verbal introductions on two live recordings at the end of the programme (At The Five Spot was actually a studio album).
A well-known reference book describes Russell as playing arrangers piano but thats unfair and unhelpful. In accompaniment and in solo hes interested in variety and uses a wide range of approaches according to the situation. His percussive attack and dissonances occasionally recall Monk but mostly hes himself and vital to the musics success.
The other key member of the sextet at its inception was trombonist David Baker. A graduate from Indiana University, he brought fellow graduates from that institution into Russells initial group (Kiger, Young and Hunt), contributed compositions and was the most original of the frontline men before Dolphy. Bakers style demonstrated as much technique as J. J. Johnsons but was hotter and swung more, occasionally seeming like an updated version of the young Higginbotham. If Kiger and Young were less distinctive they both showed presence and avoided cliché. (Some readers may recall the moving version of In A Sentimental Mood played by Young on Mercer Ellingtons visit in 1977.)
Don Ellis and Dolphy brought in more individuality and the session on which they both play (the subject of a recent letter) is the most famous of these dates but should not detract from the value of the others. When Baker had to give up trombone and take up cello the young Garnett Brown, at the beginning of a long career (hes probably the only man to have recorded with both Louis Armstrong and Albert Ayler) was a more than adequate replacement. Plummer and Pierce continued the Indiana University link and did well enough, though Gilmores contribution to the 1964 Newport set was clearly superior.
The sextets music is full of incident. Tempo changes are used frequently, possibly showing the influence of Mingus, and a track like D. C. Divertimento certainly conjures up a Mingus-like atmosphere. Written arrangements however mark a clear difference from Mingus and move Russell as composer and arranger closer to Ellington and Evans, as does his presence as pianist. Theres no space here for comment on individual tracks or even individual albums but I found almost all of this music very rewarding and certainly well within the jazz tradition (though Sheila Jordans singing is an acquired taste which I havent yet acquired). This period certainly marked the peak of George Russells recording career and because of his prominent instrumental participation in the sextet we are probably closer to the full man here than we are in the big band recordings.
Fresh Sound are to be congratulated on an impeccable presentation (with new and original notes in a very thorough booklet) of some outstanding music. Incidentally, the first CD release of the live sets in 2009 produced a complaint from Russells widow so Fresh Sound have dutifully waited for the appropriate 50-year interval before combining those sets with the studio albums as the icing on the cake."
-Graham Colombé (Jazz Journal, March 2015)