JJ 07/63: William Russo – Russo In London

Sixty years ago Jeremy French thought Russo's tunes advanced but unpretentious, the British ensembles impeccable, the solos not quite so. First published in Jazz Journal July 1963


‘Russo in London’ comprises material composed in Russo’s Kenton days but drastically revised since. I suppose it is both more and less than jazz – many ‘European’ influences are discernible, e.g. Stravinsky’s ‘Rite’ and ‘Soldier’s Tale’ in ‘Egdon Heath’, – but there is ample room for solo improvisation, and much of the orchestration is in the direct (if Kenton rather than Ellington) big-band jazz tradition.

The London Jazz Orchestra are to be complimented on their highly proficient readings of the difficult scores, the section playing being, on the whole, almost impeccable. The solo playing is not quite up to the same high general standard, but Keith Christie gets full marks for a 100 per cent jazz interpreta­tion of ‘Frank Speaking’, and, when heard, Duncan Lamont displays his cus­tomary good taste and cool authority.

I find Russo’s writing completely satis­factory. His compositions are ‘advanced’ without being in the least pretentious, and, in content, are expressive of a wide range of moods. His grasp of instrumenta­tion is particularly impressive (the string, woodwind, and brass sections of the symphony orchestra are all represented, but in numerically inverse proportions), and his use of four ‘cellos to ‘leaven’ the ‘ brass is particularly effective. At no times does the full ensemble sound clamorous, despite its 10-piece brass section.

The sleeve-notes, by Russo himself, are concisely informative, and the cover de­sign is attractive and appropriate to the music. It is probably especially desirable to buy the stereo version of this record (if you have access to the right playing equipment, of course) on account of Russo’s division of the orchestra into two independent bodies.

I like everything about this album. Well done, William.

Suite No. 1, Opus 5 (Portrait of a Count; Egdon Heath; Frank Speaking; Thisbe; Sweets) (22½ min) – Suite No. 2, Opus 8 (Bill’s Blues; Ennui; Dusk; 23 Degrees North/82 Degrees West) (16 min)
Johnny Scott, Al Newman (alts); Duncan La­mont, Art Ellefson (tens): Ronnie Ross (bar); Richard Morgan (oboe); Ron Simmonds, Leon Calvert, Gordon Rose, Tony Mabbett (tpts); Johnny Edwards, Keith Christie, Bobby Lamb, Don Lusher (tmbs); Jack Thirlwell, Ray Premru (bs, tmbs); Ray Dempsey (g); Kenny Clare (d); Arthur Watts (bs); Raymond Clark, Derek Simpson, Hilary Robinson, Jack Holmes (‘cellos). Dec, 1962.
(Columbia SCX 3478 12inLP 30s. 11d.)