GEORGE RUSSELL

At The Five Spot
Verve Elite Edition 088 112 287-2

Theorist behind the Lydian Chromatic Concept and long time professor at Boston's New England Conservatory, George Russell has also been in jazz's front lines since the late 1940s.

In a recording career that encompassed musicians as disparate as Dizzy Gillespie, Bill Evans, John Coltrane and Jan Garbarek, Russell is probably the only arranger besides the late Gil Evans who can put an individualistic stamp on any composition with any size company.

Oddly enough, though, he never captained a jobbing small group except for a brief period in the early 1960s. That band made some justly celebrated Riverside LPs featuring Steve Swallow, Don Ellis and — once — Eric Dolphy. But its genesis was in an earlier band featured on two Decca LPs, one of which is reissued here.

Offering performances as good as those found on the Riversides, the reason for the Deccas neglect is because they're never been reissued before now. Yet FIVE SPOT shows Russell's first accommodation with the then-revolutionary ideas of Ornette Coleman.

Not as groundbreaking as Coleman's work, Russell uses these new options to jack up the playing of a front line filled with recently-graduated music students who saw themselves as orthodox bebopers. With some very early Carla Bley compositions, a couple of other originals and a Miles Davis and a Coltrane standard as a base, the composer-arranger subtly allows the new freedom to seep into the tunes.

Cushioned by the foursquare tower of strength that was Israels' bass, the soloists attempt some of the collective creating that would become commonplace in free jazz on "Dance Class", and successfully negotiate Bley's early exoticism on "Beast Blues". On "Swingdom Come" Baker tries to move to the next level beyond J.J. Johnson and Young attempts to escape Coltrane.

This disc was an exceptional combo session in 1960 — and remains so today. Now for a real treat, the powers-that-be at Verve should also reissue the band's second disc, IN K.C., with more Bley compositions and Ellis on trumpet.

Over to you, record moguls.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Sippin' At Bells 2. Dance Class 3. Swingdom Come 4. 121 Bank Street 5. Beast Blues 6. Moment's Notice

Personnel: Al Kiger (trumpet); Dave Baker (trombone); Dave Young (tenor saxophone); George Russell (piano); Chuck Israels (bass); Joe Hunt (drums)