George Russell

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The Lydian Concept of Tonal Organisation. Invented modal jazz. Musically active 1945-present. Scored "A Bird In Igor's Yard" and "Cubana Be/Cubana Bop" for Dizzy Gillespie's big band. Classic records:

Ezz-Thetic (RCA 1957 - two years before Kind of Blue, with the not coincidental presence of Bill Evans on piano, and arriving at pretty well the same conclusions).

Outer Thoughts (Milestone double vinyl compilation 1975, recorded 1960-2 - probably not available anywhere now, but a superb collection of the best of Russell's early '60s work for the Riverside label, all of which albums are individually available on CD. Includes Don Ellis, Eric Dolphy and Steve Swallow amongst others. Definitive mongrelisation of "Round Midnight" and the most frightening piece of music ever made, the almost unrecognisable 12-minute version of "You Are My Sunshine" featuring the greatest female jazz vocal performance ever, courtesy of Sheila Jordan, half of which is completely unaccompanied, like a murdered child)

Electronic Sonata for Souls Loved By Nature 1968 (Soul Note reissue, 1980 - NOT the inferior later re-recording - pioneering electro- acoustic piece, recorded while an artist in residence at Sweden and featuring several future ECM stalwarts sounding decidedly non-ECM, e.g. Garbarek, Rypdal, Christensen)

Living Time (with Bill Evans, CBS 1972, currently unavailable on CD - GR starts getting into rock. Interesting parallels with contemporary work of Gil Evans (Blues in Orbit) and Mike Gibbs. Absolute classic, cries out for reissue)

Many others worthy of attention including Live At Beethoven Hall with Don Cherry (MPS, 1965), Vertical Form # 4 (Soul Note, 1982) and The African Game (Soul Note, 1985). Still tours regularly.

Marcello Carlin, Wednesday, 27 February 2002 01:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

And, indeed, Jazz In The Space Age with the dual pianos of Evans and Paul Bley (1961). How could I forget?

Marcello Carlin, Wednesday, 27 February 2002 01:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Ezz-thetics is fantastic, esp. Eric Dolphy's playing throughout (esp. esp. his playing on "Round Midnight"). Only thing I have by Russell.

Mark, Wednesday, 27 February 2002 01:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Ezz-thetics is a neat more obviously jazz-ish intro -- all the tracks nail the respective ideas succintly (including great Dolphy, great photo of Dolphy and cover image, plus a useful to compare Davis "cover").

Expand this out -- concept albums is a convenient if awkward term for some of Russell's recorded projects. I got NY New York and Jazz in the Space Age albums on a weirdly juxtaposing "two-fer" or double-lp - - the two different projects could not be more different in some ways, but there the double LP was, "NY NY and Jazz in the Space Age" - - his jazz/space thing can't really be compared to Sun Ra, totally different, but still "out" (?)

The double LP "Electronic Sonata .." (well, 3 sides of that project) on Soul Note is fantastic, perhaps more what you're used to with jazz + electro-wash, but back then it must have sounded totally unique, and it's still first and perhaps best on that angle. "Vertical Form IV" is a challenging listen -- the vertical or 'Lydian' ideas should not be understated -- something of a mind-boggling demonstration.

That's my George Russell experience -- it's jazz, but it always sounds quite different and refreshing -- instrumentalists, orchestrations, all his projects are careful documentations with no waste space, nothing remtely like other jazz you may have heard, yet quite accessible. A good example of jazz cats working with a white guy in the '60s like "so what", like Gil Evans. The Evans/Davis will always sound more ordinary than Russell, given the status and airplay Davis has received. These unique off-the-wall experiments by Russell deserve and reward wider listenings.

George Gosset, Thursday, 28 February 2002 01:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Fact is that Evans eventually picked up on what Russell was doing and arguably spent the rest of his career tailing him. Check out Evans' "Blues in Orbit" album, done a year or two after the original Electronic Sonata, and see what I mean. Much more looseness, especially on the track "General Assembly" (compare with '64 version on Individualism - it's a massive gulf).

Marcello Carlin, Thursday, 28 February 2002 01:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

two years pass...
OK, I'm totally confused now....

Will someone please tell me which one of these is supposed to be the definitive (1967?) version of "Electronic Sonata For Souls Loved By Nature": this one (which calls itself "Electronic Sonata For Souls Loved By Nature 1968", contains 2 selections entitled Electronic Sonata For Souls Loved By Nature Pts I & II, features Garbarek, Rypdal & Christensen, but only gets _3_ stars from AMG and was apparently actually recorded in 1969); or this one (which calls itself "Electronic Sonata For Souls Loved By Nature 1980", contains 2 selections entitled Events 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 and Events 8,9,10,11,12,13,14, does not appear to feature Garbarek, Rypdal or Christensen, but gets a full _5_ stars from AMG); and where the hell does this one (which includes 3 selections entitled Electronic Sonata For Souls Loved By Nature Pts I, II & III, features Garbarek, Rypdal & Christensen, actually appears to have been recorded in 1967 and gets _4_ stars from AMG but is called "The Essence Of George Russell") fit in?

Stewart Osborne (Stewart Osborne), Tuesday, 22 June 2004 11:00 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Thank you.

Stewart Osborne (Stewart Osborne), Tuesday, 22 June 2004 11:02 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

you can rule out the second, as marcello suggests. the 3rd has me stumped and excited; its not so much the dates as i'm pretty sure there arent 3 versions (...?)but check the times of the pieces - an hour for the first, 15 mins the 2nd and a 3rd too. the original isnt this long so...

prima fassy (mwah), Tuesday, 22 June 2004 11:12 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

If you look at the details for "The Essence Of George Russell" here it appears that the 60:28 ascribed to the first track by AMG is actually the total for all 3 (19:45 + 19:51 + 20:53) and the 14:07 relates to the 4th track, Now And Then.

Those times don't appear to tie-in with either version of "Electronic Sonata For Souls Loved By Nature" 'though....

Stewart Osborne (Stewart Osborne), Tuesday, 22 June 2004 11:23 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

To confuse matters further, the discography at includes "The Essence Of George Russell" and "Electronic Sonata For Souls Loved By Nature 1980" but not "Electronic Sonata For Souls Loved By Nature 1968"....

It's no wonder my brain hurts.

Stewart Osborne (Stewart Osborne), Tuesday, 22 June 2004 11:30 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Three versions of Electronic Sonatas:

The "Essence of George Russell" (Sonet, 1967) version is the lengthiest, with three parts stretched over three sides. I think the Soul Note CD brings 'em together into one track, but don't hold me to it. This features a larger ensemble w/ less electronic intervention. The first few minutes are actually somewhat funky.

The "Electronic Sonatas" (Flying Dutchman, 1969) version is the one to search. Sextet recording featuring Garbarek, Rypdal and Christensen w/ lots of electronics and even an extended sample. Rypdal tears the place apart on the second half. Crucial stuff.

I've always avoided the 1980 version, due to an perceived consensus that it falls short of the earlier two recordings.

doug watson (solid air), Tuesday, 22 June 2004 13:51 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Thanks Doug.

Shame that "perceived consensus" apparently excludes AMG!

Stewart Osborne (Stewart Osborne), Tuesday, 22 June 2004 14:03 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Shame that "perceived consensus" apparently excludes AMG!

Well, in the absence of an actual review, the five star rating is suspect at best. I've yet to find a discussion of George Russell's discography-- including this one-- that doesn't downgrade the 1980 version.

(That said, I'd still give it a listen if I ever actually stumbled over it.)

doug watson (solid air), Tuesday, 22 June 2004 14:21 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

seven years pass...

Get this:

The Complete Black Saint & Soul Note recordings (9 CDs!) can be had for less than $40. It has all three versions of *Electronic Sonata for Souls Loved By Nature*, and actually, I think all three are excellent.

1) 1967 studio version (on *The Essence of George Russell*) - recorded by a huge group (21 players), heavy on the brass.

2) 1969 live version (on *Electronic Sonata For Souls Loved By Nature - 1968*...why "1968" is in the title when it was recorded in 1969, I don't know.) - sextet.

3) 1980 studio version (on *Electronic Sonata For Souls Loved By Nature - 1980*) with a sextet configuration. This version starts off significantly slower than the previous versions. It doesn't feature Rypdal and Garbarek, but there are some interesting things going on; it definitely is going for a different vibe at the beginning. Don't dismiss it until you hear it.

The boxed set also features an abridged FOURTH version - it's entitled "Souls" and it uses the main theme in an 8-minute live take, recorded in 1970 with a sextet (incl. Rypdal, Garbarek, and Christensen). This is on *Trip to Prillarguri*.

ernestp, Saturday, 18 February 2012 16:46 (five years ago) Permalink

'Intellectual' white jazzer from the mid-50s on

I don't think GR was 'white'?

I'm Street but I Know my Roots (sonofstan), Sunday, 19 February 2012 09:45 (five years ago) Permalink

This page:
says Russell was "...the son of a white father and a black mother"

ernestp, Sunday, 19 February 2012 17:40 (five years ago) Permalink

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