Sunday, June 11, 2017

George Russell - Electronic Sonata for Souls Loved by Nature


George Russell (1923-2009) plays piano on this album, and played drums early in his career, but his real instrument was his pen - he was one of the handful of really great jazz composers. Russell contributed some challenging charts to Dizzy Gillespie's big band in the late 1940s and came into his own with some mature and highly personal compositions and arrangements in the late 1950s. But his career took a leap forward when he became a bandleader. In the early 1960s he produced a series of groundbreaking sextet, with a changing cast of characters which included Don Ellis, Dave Baker, Eric Dolphy, Don Cherry, and Steve Swallow, with Russell at the piano. This album, recorded in 1969 in Norway, is an extension of that sextet series.

Fed up with racism in the United States, Russell moved to Scandanavia in 1964, working in Norway and Sweden through the rest of the 1960s and 1970s. The Electronic Sonata was one of his major achievements during this period; it has been recorded several times, first with a big band. This live sextet version is the second recording of the piece, issued in the U.S. on the Flying Dutchman label. The outstanding, mostly European sextet contains, besides Russell on piano, the German trumpeter Manfred Schoof, American expatriate Red Mitchell on bass, and three Norwegians: saxophonist Jan Garbarek, guitarist Terje Rypdal, and John Christensen on drums. Russell's piece is long and multi-sectioned, with complex melodies, rock rhythms, bass vamps, and an electronic tape part which plays in the background and between movements. It's a wonderful piece, and wonderfully played here. Here's side one; if you like it you should be able to find side two without much trouble.


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