JJ 05/64: George Russell – The Stratus Seekers

Sixty years ago Mark Gardner feared neurotic music of the Russell variety would have jazz clubs empty and unsold albums gathering dust. First published in Jazz Journal May 1964

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This music (I hesitate to call it jazz) makes tremendous demands on the listener. It is harsh, unyielding, often brutal, frequently formless. Indeed, if this is how jazz is going to sound in years to come, clubs will be empty and unsold albums will gather dust on the shelves of record stores.

Russell and his men, talented though they are, have blown themselves into a musical cul-de-sac. Possibly, if one read Russell’s book “The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization”, his aims might be clarified. But the age-old test of “music must be good if it sounds good” still applies. And frankly, the contents of this LP don’t sound good, they strike me as being highly neurotic.

That is not to say that there are not some rewarding passages. Tenorman Paul Plummer, bearing the stamp of 1957-vintage Coltrane, has a number of powerful solos, his contribution to the title track being outstanding. Ellis too has his moments, although he tends to be an erratic improvisor. He will follow half a chorus of lyrical trumpet with a spate of careless clinkers which would shame even a busker. Trombonist Dave Baker is a limited technician who plays out of tune most of the time. Bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Joe Hunt do a grand job, while altoist John Pierce is like a very sick Ernie Henry. Russell leads (hardly the right word) this ill-assorted combination through four of his tunes, one by Baker and a sixth by trumpeter Al Kiger. The pianist seems bent on creating musical havoc as he slams out anarchistic chords behind the soloists.

If Russell has set out to be provocative, he’s certainly achieved his goal. As for the horrible spate of offensive ad-libbing at the conclusion of The Stratus Seekers, it will clearly provoke adulation, ridicule or revulsion, depending on your point of view.

Lovers of Cecil Taylor and Co. may want this one. Others are advised to steer well clear of Mr. Russell and his septet of stratus seekers.

Discography
Pan-Daddy; The Stratus Seekers; Kige’s Tune (17½ min) – Blues In Orbit; A Lonely Place; Stereophrenic (20 min)
Don Ellis (tpt); Dave Baker (tbn); John Pierce (alt); Paul Plummer (ten); George Russell (p); Stephen Swallow (bs); Joe Hunt (d). New York City, 31/1/62.
(Riverside RLP 412 12inLP 37s. 6d.)