The Squid's Ear Magazine


Russell, Hal NRG Ensemble: The Hal Russell Story (ECM Records)

This 1996 recording of the Hal Russell NRG Ensemble of Mars Williams (reeds), Brian Sandstrom (bass, guitars, trumpets), Kent Kessler (bass, trombone) and Steve Hunt (drums & percussion) was recorded five week before Russell's passing, a wild parting gift of twenty succinct improvisations covering an incredible amount of territory with power, humor and amazing musical skill.
 

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Personnel:



Hal Russell-tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, trumpet, drums, xylophone, percussion, gong, narration, vocals

Mars Williams-tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, bass saxophone, toy horns, wood flute, didgeridoo, bells, sounds, narration

Brian Sandstrom-acoustic bass, electric guitar, trumpet, toy horns, percussion

Kent Kessler-acoustic bass, trombone

Steve Hunt-drums, vibraphone, tympani, percussion


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UPC: 731451736421

Label: ECM Records
Catalog ID: ECM 1498
Squidco Product Code: 34545

Format: CD
Condition: New
Released: 1993
Country: Germany
Packaging: Jewel Case
Recorded at Hardstudios, in Winterthur, Switzerland, in July 1992, by Martin Wieland.

Descriptions, Reviews, &c.

"What do you do when you know too much?

Improvise!!!

The late and great Hal Russell passed away not five weeks after recording, prophetically enough, The Hal Russell Story, a whirlwind of a tour through the autobiography of one of jazz's undisputed champions. From the intro, we get Russell's taste of yore with megaphone amid an engagingly frenetic cyclone of sound, followed by a toy parade in the spirit of the Art Ensemble of Chicago: a romp through childhood's darkest corners, ending in a trumpet free-for-all and the sketch of a nascent musician caught in the radio waves of life.

So begins the 18-part title suite, a pan bursting with golden nuggets of abandon. A bed of drumming supports with mounting intensity a lithe dance of vibes. A swinging sax rises from the depths of a torturously sonorous past. A breezy sort of high-octane energy works its saxophonic magic at every turn with delectable aplomb. Squawks and dark raptures trade verses for curses against some hard-hitting reed work all around. The rhythm section sees Russell eye to eye at every level.

Incredible screeches from tenor work over an invisible crowd with utterly attenuated vocal energy. That wonderful rhythm section kicks in at key moments, making headway against the soprano's ululating tide. Smokier flavors sit side-by-side with empty flutters from bass. From match-lit tributes to late masters to quiet reflections, every nuance speaks as if born again, unsure of the death that gave it life. A growling guitar swept up in unsheathed brass is blown to bits by squealing tenor, letting us down easy into the night, where Miles still wanders, dragging the weighty trailer of his craft. Flowering little suspension bridges of influence and affect bleed into slices of swank. Dramatic pops and scuttling opportunities run rampant. The band's resolve contracts and expands through haunts and explosions. Freedom principles and fast rules tune themselves to the drama of "Lady In The Lake," a pensive and strangely declamatory track that nudges us into a distinctive rendition of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well."

Steve Lake has produced some of ECM's most exciting recordings, and The Hal Russell Story stands as a crowning achievement. A brilliant album that weaves its personal threads over and under for an honest patchwork. With all of this clear from one studio effort, I can only imagine what the live NRG experience must have been as musicians switched instruments at the drop of a hat in a controlled chaos.

Vaudeville, yes vaudeville (can't seem to shake the influence)."-ECM


Artist Biographies

"Hal Russell (born Harold Russell Luttenbacher, August 28, 1926 September 5, 1992) was an American free jazz composer, band leader and multi-instrumentalist who performed mainly on saxophone and drums but occasionally on trumpet or vibraphone. Russel's fiery music was marked by significant humor, not unlike much of Dutch drummer Han Bennink's output. His music was so accessible that People magazine hailed The Finnish Swiss Tour on ECM as one of its top 5 albums of the year. Russell set the table for the free improv and free jazz scene which exploded later in the 1990s in Chicago.Biography

Born in Detroit, Michigan, United States, and raised in Chicago, Illinois, from the eighth grade, Russell began playing drums at age four, but majored in trumpet at college; he subsequently drummed in several big bands, including those of Woody Herman and Boyd Raeburn.

As with many young players in the mid-1940s, Russell's life was irreversibly changed by bebop. In the 1950s he worked with musicians including Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and Duke Ellington. He succumbed to drugs and was a heroin addict for ten years. In 1959, he joined the Joe Daley Trio, whose Newport' 1963, which was mostly studio material, was reputedly one of the earliest free jazz records.

In the early 1970s, Russell was the regular percussionist for the band at the suburban Chicago Candlelight Dinner Playhouse. Here he played mostly drums, but occasionally vibes and keyboards. At the same time he would host many young jazz musicians for jam sessions at his home, or in Chicago nightclubs.

In 1979, Russell formed the NRG Ensemble, which for most of its existence featured saxophonist Mars Williams, multi-instrumentalist Brian Sandstrom, and percussionist Steve Hunt, among others. At this time he starting playing tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone and trumpet, in addition to drums and vibes. Russell finally issued his first album in 1981 for the Nessa label. In the late 1980s, the group began playing frequently in Europe, and began recording for ECM with The Finnish/Swiss Tour. Russell led the NRG Ensemble until his death.

In addition to the NRG Ensemble, Russell always maintained several auxiliary bands, a partnership with pianist Joel Futterman, the rock-oriented trio NRG 3 with Ed Ludwig on drums and Noel Kupersmith on bass, and The Flying Luttenbachers with Chad Organ on tenor sax and Weasel Walter on drums.

Cited by some as a missing link between the AACM and later Chicago free jazz, Russell was experiencing greater public awareness before his death. Just after completing the semi-autobiographical album The Hal Russell Story, Russell died of a heart attack in September 1992."

-Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hal_Russell)
4/10/2024

Have a better biography or biography source? Please Contact Us so that we can update this biography.

"Mars Williams is an open-minded musician, composer and educator who commutes easily between free jazz, funk, hip-hop and rock, Mars has played and recorded with The Psychedelic Furs, Billy Idol, Massacre, Fred Frith, Bill Laswell, Ministry, Power Station, Die Warzau, The Waitresses, Kiki Dee, Pete Cosey, Billy Squier, DJ Logic, Wayne Kramer, John Scoffield, Charlie Hunter, Kurt Elling, Swollen Monkeys, Mike Clark, Jerry Garcia, Naked Raygun, Friendly Fires, The Untouchables, Blow Monkeys and virtually every leading figure of Chicago's and New York City's "downtown" scene.

John Zorn credits Mars as "one of the true saxophone players--someone who takes pleasure in the sheer act of blowing the horn. This tremendous enthusiasm is an essential part of his sound, and it comes through each note every time he plays. Whatever the situation, Mars plays exciting music. In many ways he has succeeded in redefining what versatility means to the modern saxophone player."

In 2001 Mars received a Grammy Nomination for Best Contemporary Jazz Record with his group Liquid Soul.

Despite his busy touring schedule with Liquid Soul and The Psychedelic Furs, Mars manages to stay active on the Chicago underground improvising scene. In recent years he has toured and recorded with the Peter Brötzmann Tentet, Switchback, Full Blast, Scorch Trio, the Vandermark 5, Boneshaker, Chicago Reed Quartet and Cinghiale, teaming him with such musicians as Ken Vandermark, Hamid Drake, Michael Zerang, William Parker, Ikue Mori, Kent Kessler, Fredric Lonberg Holm, Peter Brotzmann, Joe McPhee, Paal Nilssen-Love, Ab Baars, Mike Reed, Jeb Bishop, Harrison Bankhead, Dave Rempis, Kidd Jordan and Matts Gustafson.

He performs weekly in Chicago along with Jim Baker, Steve Hunt, and Brian Sandstrom in the improvising quartet "Extraordinary Popular Delusions". As a bandleader, he continues to perform and record CDs with his own free-jazz groups, the NRG Ensemble, Witches & Devils, Slam, XmarsX, Mars Trio, Boneshaker and The Soul Sonic Sirkus which features improvising musicians and aerial circus performers. Along with Die Warsau's Van Christie, Mars has started Ratking Music, a production company focusing on music for film and television.

In addition to performing and creating music, Mars has been an educator in the field of woodwinds and jazz improvisation for over thirty years. Mars held the position of Woodwind Instructor at Bard College for two years. In the last few years Mars has presented Master classes and clinics to a number of private and public institutions including, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, the University of Chicago, Roosevelt University (Chicago, IL), and June Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art (Auburn, AL)."

-Mars Williams Website (http://www.marswilliams.com/about/)
4/10/2024

Have a better biography or biography source? Please Contact Us so that we can update this biography.

Brian Sandstrom is a Chicago based guitarist and bassist known for his work with NRG Ensemble.

-Squidco 4/10/2024

Have a better biography or biography source? Please Contact Us so that we can update this biography.

"Kent Kessler (born January 28, 1957 in Crawfordsville, Indiana) is an American jazz double-bassist, best known for his work in the Chicago avant-garde jazz scene.

Kessler, born in Crawfordsville, Indiana, grew up on Cape Cod and began playing trombone at age ten. He and his family moved to Chicago when he was 13, and a few years later Kessler became intensely interested in jazz. While attending St. Mary Center for Learning High School, he began taking lessons from Kestutis Stanciauskas (Streetdancer) in electric bass and jazz theory in the middle of the 1970s. In 1977 he formed the ensemble Neutrino Orchestra with percussionist Michael Zerang and guitarists Dan Scanlan and Norbert Funk. He spent three months in Brazil during 1980-81 and spent time studying intermittently at Roosevelt University in Chicago; he and Zerang also formed a group called Musica Menta, which played regularly at Link's Hall.

Kessler began playing double bass in the 1980s and it became his primary instrument when he was asked in 1985 to join the NRG Ensemble, who toured Europe and recorded for ECM Records under the leadership of Hal Russell until his death in 1992. In 1991, he gigged with Zerang and guitarist Chris DeChiara; in need of a hornist, they called Ken Vandermark, who had been considering leaving the Chicago scene. Kessler and Vandermark would go on to collaborate extensively on free jazz and improvisational projects such as the Vandermark 5, the DKV Trio and the Steelwool Trio. In the 1990s and afterwards he worked with Chicago musicians such as Hamid Drake, Fred Anderson, and Joe McPhee, and also with European musicians such as Peter Brötzmann, Mats Gustafsson, Misha Mengelberg, and Luc Houtkamp.

In 2003, Kessler released a solo album, Bull Fiddle, on Okka Disk. Kessler performs alone on nine of the twelve tracks, and with Michael Zerang on three."

-Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kent_Kessler)
4/10/2024

Have a better biography or biography source? Please Contact Us so that we can update this biography.

Steve Hunt is a drummer/percussionist in groups Caffeine, FJF, NRG Ensemble, Witches & Devils.

-Discogs (https://www.discogs.com/artist/808799-Steve-Hunt-3)
4/10/2024

Have a better biography or biography source? Please Contact Us so that we can update this biography.


Track Listing:



1. Intro and Fanfare/Toy Parade/Trumpet March/Riverside Jump 5:22

2. Krupa 5:36

3. You're Blase 1:51

4. Dark Rapture 2:44

5. World Class 2:25

6. Wood Chips 2:31

7. My Little Grass Shack 2:36

8. O & B 3:44

9. For M 6:17

10. Gloomy Sunday 2:31

11. Hair Male 3:13

12. Bossa G 0:38

13. Mildred 1:07

14. Dope Music 1:44

15. The 2 x 2 3:13

16. The Ayler Songs 5:53

17. Rehcabnettul 4:05

18. Steve's Freedom Principle 5:33

19. Lady in the Lake 3:31

20. Oh Well 2:39

Related Categories of Interest:


Jazz
Jazz
Free Improvisation
Large Ensembles
Chicago Jazz & Improvisation
Staff Picks & Recommended Items
New in Improvised Music
Recent Releases and Best Sellers

Search for other titles on the label:
ECM Records.


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