The George Russell Sextet - Ezz-Thetics (1961)

The George Russell Sextet - Ezz-thetics (1961)

Eric Dolphy (alto saxophone, flute, bass clarinet)
George Russell (piano)

Don Ellis (trumpet)
Dave Baker (trombone)
Steve Swallow (acoustic bass)
Joe Hunt (drums)

01 Ezz-Thetic  
02 Nardis  
03 Lydiot  
04 Thoughts  
05 Honesty  
06 'Round Midnight

A post-war masterpiece, Ezz-Thetics is pianist/arranger
George Russell's definitive 1961 sextet recording from
the earliest phase of his multi-decade career. On par
with such iconic albums as Oliver Nelson's Blues and
the Abstract Truth (Impulse!, 1961), Mal Waldron's
The Quest (Riverside, 1961) and Andrew Hill's Point
of Departure ( Blue Note, 1964 ), Ezz-Thetics traffics
in the same advanced but accessible strain of
avant-garde-influenced post-bop.

Author of The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal

Organization ( pub. 1953 ), Russell's seminal  concepts
of improvisation, based on scales rather
than chords, became the driving force behind the
early modal explorations of Miles Davis and
John Coltrane. This pioneering session offers
a singular and visionary view of classic post-bop
that is ageless in its perfection.

Starring a phenomenal group of talent, Russell's
sextet features multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy,
trumpeter Don Ellis, trombonist Dave Baker,
a young Steve Swallow on acoustic bass and drummer
Joe Hunt. Undaunted by Russell's unorthodox arrangements
and tricky, pan-tonal harmonic sensibility, these young
firebrands tackle these knotty compositions with flawless
technique and unbounded creativity.

“Ezz-Thetic” opens the album with a bustling, circuitous
theme that ripples with spiraling angularity. Inspiring
a round of exhilarating statements from the horns, the
tune breaks down into a sequence of recurrent call and
response between the rhythm section and brass that eschews
typical conventions of pattern and form.

Supported by subtle counterpoint and an elegant arrangement,
Miles Davis' exotic “Nardis” is given a haunting reading.
The sly and unassuming “Lydiot” reveals Russell's minimalist
angularity behind the piano, while Dolphy displays a keening,
expressive aspect in contrast to Ellis' dulcet trumpet.

Using the blues as a basic framework, Baker's contribution,
“Thoughts,” incorporates free-form sections at regular
intervals, exposing the fine line between tradition and
innovation. “Honesty” is a celebratory ode; a vibrant
hybrid of classic swing and edgy futurism that contrasts
bluesy lyricism with suspenseful, stop-time segments.

A prescient rendition of Thelonious Monk's “'Round Midnight”
acts as a showpiece for Dolphy. Opening with a free-form
section of tiny instrumental sounds and highly vocalized
brass effects, it pre-dates the work of the AACM
( Association for the Advancement of Creative Music )
by almost a decade. A brilliant study in dynamics and
virtuosity, Dolphy's alto solo is legendary. Incorporating
intervallic leaps and register changes with a highly
vocalized tone and mellifluous phrasing, he offers
a definitive statement on a hallowed theme.

Two takes of the previously unissued “Kige's Tune”
appear as bonus tracks. A driving bop-ish vehicle,
it is a worthwhile addition, providing the perfect
coda to a brilliant session.

Cerebral and innovative, yet firmly grounded in tradition,
Ezz-Thetics is essential listening and an absolute
requirement for any comprehensive jazz collection.

Russell's masterwork is beautiful, enthralling and
adventurous, a perfect summation of all the innovations
post-war jazz has to offer. ~ Troy Collins

"Recently re-released on the 'Keepnews Collection'
"Ezz-thetics" is my favourite of all Russell's
Riverside output. The new reissue has the usual
updated and perceptive and historically significant
notes by the redoubtable Mr. Keepnews and has two
previously unissued bonus tracks as well. Russell's
bands fluctuated with different players but always
sounded so modern and creative but this edition of the
sextet was special because it had Eric Dolphy playing
alto and bass clarinet. Dolphy joined for a few months
and made this album with Don Ellis on trumpet, who was
later to make his mark as a bandleader, David Baker on
trombone,the wonderful and forgotten drummer Joe Hunt
and the recording debut of Steve Swallow, playing accoustic
bass make this a once in a lifetime session. Dolphy's
energy and creativity make this recording significant
but Ellis is on fire as well and this was to be the last
recording by David Baker on trombone who as Keepnews says
sounds both avant-guard and funky at the same time. Baker
was playing with a dislocated jaw and right after this
recording had an operation and switched from trombone
to cello. Baker to this day is one of the leading educators
in Jazz and classical music. Russell's piano is spare
like Monk's and is so effective in solo and the fills
for the horn players. The title track is an exciting
and updated composition that Russell wrote for Miles
and Lee Konitz in the early 50's and dedicated to the
great Jazz loving prize fighter Ezzard Charles, hence
the title,'Ezz-thetic'. The other highlight of this
recording is one of the most unique versions of Monk's
''Round Midnight'. There are so many highlights to this
album that one should hear it all and marvel at the very
contemporary concept and sound of this March 1961 date."