A masterpiece of the 1950s
N. Dorward | Toronto, ON Canada | 10/09/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"George Russell, like Gil Evans, had established a reputation as a brilliantly innovative thinker & arranger in the 1940s and early 1950s without more than a handful of his compositions being recorded--he'd contributed work to dates by Buddy DeFranco, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, &c, but this 1956 recording marks his first date as a leader. Except for a tuned-percussion solo on "Fellow Delegates", he doesn't play on this disc: the piano chair is held by a young Bill Evans, in what counts as his first major outing on disc. The recording would simply be notable for this fact: but it's in any case a major document. The rest of the band is Hal McKusick on alto & flute, Art Farmer on trumpet, Barry Galbraith (a Russell stalwart) on guitar, & a shifting rhythm section which on several tracks features a young Paul Motian.It's still an astonishing disc. Russell's most celebrated innovations concern concepts of jazz harmony and melody--the "Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization", a cumbrous name for an elegant & enlightening systematization of music theory which was a direct inspiration for the "modal jazz" of Russell's friend Miles Davis. But less recognized has been Russell's rhythmic innovations, which date back to "Cubano-Be/Cubano-Bop"--check out the bewildering introduction to "Ye Hypocrite, Ye Beelzebub" here, for instance. There's simply nothing else in the period like the extremely intricate polyphonies of Russell's arrangements. Russell was later to follow a similar path to Gil Evans, both in performing as a pianist with his bands despite playing what's often called "arranger's piano", & also more generally in loosening his arrangements to emphasize soloing rather than intricate part-writing. But this album remains the epitome of his early style, along with "All About Rosie" (on the now-out-of-print _Birth of the Third Stream_ compilation) & the furiously intricate "Lydian M-1" (on Teddy Charles' _Teddy Charles Tentet_ album).This album has Russell's first recording under his own name of "Ezz-Thetic", his only composition to become something of a standard (it's an extremely difficult contrafact on the chords to "Love for Sale"). Its centrepiece, though, is the "Concerto for Billy the Kid", a very fast tune (again, written on top of a standard--this time "I Remember April") which after a densely-woven introduction is turned over to Bill Evans. One of the most welcome things about this reissue is the inclusion of an alternate take of this track (recorded a month after the first take) with a different rhythm section. Both versions are masterful.This is one of the essential jazz recordings of the 1950s."