JJ 02/63: George Russell Sextet – Ezz-Thetics

Sixty years ago Graham Boatfield felt Russell represented the brainy side of a pincer attack on the establishment, Coleman the unschooled. First published in Jazz Journal February 1963

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It would be too facile to suggest that the music of a group such as this is just one more example of the influence of the Ornette Coleman school (or heresy), just because both tend to obscur­ity, and have a harsh and unyielding sound.

The only connection, to my mind, is that the two represent different wings of a pincer attack on the establishment of jazz. One is earthy, unschooled, based on a “stream of consciousness” ap­proach, and very necessary at the present time. The other – and this record comes into this category – is the product of deliberation and cerebral effort.

At its worst, this type of music becomes arid, gritty and uncommunicative – like the lower depths of the last Coltrane and Dolphy visit to Great Britain. Most of this material is well clear of this pit­fall. If it can be related to anything else, it is similar in effect to some of the band work of Thelonious Monk, without having the benefit of a single dominating personality.

There is humour in these tracks, trickiness, and enormous ability. There is also plenty of feeling, and at times – particularly in “Thoughts” – the same sort of impact that comes from Monk at his best, although this is not sustained, and cannot be induced by any single one of these musicians.

The three tracks on the second side are the most thought provoking, but – predictably – Monk’s “Round About Midnight” is less effective than the other two. This is difficult music – at times brutal and almost irritating, elsewhere swaggering and full of menace. Listen long and listen hard and it may do you some good – like medicine.

Discography
Ezz-thetic; Nardis; Lydiot (22½ min) – Thoughts; Honesty; Round About Midnight (22½ min)
Don Ellis (tpt); Dave Baker (tbn); Eric Dolphy (alt/bs-clt); George Russell (p); Stephen Swal­low (bs); Joe Hunt (d). New York, 8/5/61.
(Riverside RLP 375 12inLP 33s. Id.)