At Beethoven Hall – Complete Recordings

COMPOSERS: Charlie Parker,George Russell,Milt Jackson,Thelonious Monk
LABELS: MPS
ALBUM TITLE: George Russell Sextet
PERFORMER: George Russell Sextet: George Russell (p), Bertil Loewgren, Don Cherry (t), Brian Trentham (tb), Ray Pitts (ts), Cameron Brown (b),Al Heath (d)
CATALOGUE NO: 539 084-2

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On 23 June this year, George Russell celebrated his 75th birthday and received a whole book full of tributes from musicians and friends. He is, of course, the most important living jazz composer and the music’s most vital theorist. His book The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organisation is a practical handbook for improvising and composing, which has been studied by many leading musicians and has also provided the basis for virtually all formal jazz education.

Russell’s survival, despite years of neglect and bouts of serious illness, is something of a miracle. After his early struggles, things began to change for him in the Sixties, when he started playing piano with his sextet and featuring his own compositions and arrangements. He got to Europe with a jazz package tour in 1964 and found considerable patronage for his music in Scandinavia.

This sextet concert at Stuttgart’s Beethoven Hall in August 1965, which includes a fine Swedish trumpeter (Loewgren) and a seventh member in featured soloist Don Cherry, is a dynamic example of Russell’s Lydian concept in action. He is no dry-as-dust musical theorist and has said, ‘I always feel that music has to have three qualities – physical, emotional and intellectual energy.’

These 1965 performances have an extraordinary fluidity, moving in and out of regular time and juxtaposing passages of great rhythmic eloquence with pauses for moments of thought. Russell’s extraordinary piano comments and incitements always seem to instigate the direction and drama of the music, and the whole sextet seems to be living on a knife-edge of inspiration.

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In order to demonstrate just how his Lydian concept works, Russell has applied it to several well-known jazz pieces – Milt Jackson’s blues ‘Bags’ Groove’, Charlie Parker’s ‘Confirmation’ and Thelonious Monk’s ‘Round Midnight’. The programme also includes Russell’s most moving tone poem – an 11-minute Lydian investigation of the popular song ‘You Are My Sunshine’ which unearths unexpected and disturbing emotional resonances.