Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

177

Hal Russell's Chemical Feast: Elixir

Derek Taylor By

Sign in to view read count
The music of Chemical Feast incorporates an ingredient often lacking from most free jazz - a healthy helping of humor and whimsy. One of Hal Russell’s numerous pre-NRG vehicles, the quintet juggled a manic improvisatory energy with all-wheel drive versatility and a circus-like jocularity pervaded their music. As the first of a series of archival recordings culled from Russell’s extensive private tape cache by John Corbett and Mars Williams the rollicking performance captured on this disc presents the band in front of a small Chicago gallery audience circa the close of the 70s.

Russell is the charismatic barker behind the drum kit, banging out an irresistible invitation that sucks the crowd in and holds them transfixed. In addition to his ringmaster role he’s also the primary rhythmic fuel source for the band and the horns routinely draw power from his strenuous stick work. Not wasting a lick for introductions the barnstorming version of Coleman’s “Broadway Blues” that opens the disc approximates the spectacle of a wrestling match with Williams and Middleman vying for supremacy in the ring. Russell pummels out and eddying undercurrent and Ditusa’s bottom-heavy strings bubble up in the surging noise. Southgate’s glimmering vibes are almost demulcent by comparison and his brief statement primes the patrons for the punishing volume of the leader’s ensuing solo.

“Manas” and “Kahoutek” are tone poems of sorts with Russell moving from his trap kit to ominous bowed zither and it’s on these pieces where the capricious momentum of the performance dissipates a degree into introspective navel gazing. Russell’s turn on tenor for “Four Free” is similarly suspect (he had only been playing the instrument a comparatively short time), but he what he lacks in facility he more than compensates for in enthusiasm. Much like his ferocious, non-idiomatic drumming, his reed inventions celebrate emotive expression over precision technique.

Arguably the disc's centerpiece, the fantastic rendition of Dave Holland’s “Four Winds” explodes from a burst of tape static an visits what sounds like Williams in mid-solo. Throughout it's generous duration the piece only hints tangentially in places on the composer’s memorable melody. Also adding to the anything goes ambience are Southgate’s free-form vibes extravaganza, speckled with verbal affirmatives from the band, and Russell’s surprisingly subtle drum oration.

Foibles in the source tape such as some odd phase shifting during sections and a coarsely metallic sound floor contribute further to the unruly acoustics (a perfect compliment to the ad hoc improvisations). The recording isn’t going to win any laurels for clean fidelity, but its very existence precludes any finger waving at its shortcomings. Russell’s discography is sparse enough as it currently stands. The prospect of future releases like this one is made all the more appealing considering he’s no longer with us and the source of the reservoir is his own personal stash.

Unheard/Atavistic on the web: http://www.atavistic.com

Track Listing: Broadway Blues/ Manas/ Four Free/ Four Winds/ Kahoutek/ March of the Cellulite Goddesses/ Airborne.

Personnel: Hal Russell- drums, tenor saxophone, amplified bowed zither; Mars Williams- saxophones; Spider Middleman- saxophones; George Southgate- vibes, drums; Russ Ditusa- bass. Recorded: March 5, 1979, Chicago, IL.

Title: Elixir | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Atavistic Worldwide

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Shop for Music

Start your music shopping from All About Jazz and you'll support us in the process. Learn how.

Related Articles

Read We Are On The Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration Album Reviews
We Are On The Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration
By Mark Corroto
April 25, 2019
Read Golem Dance Album Reviews
Golem Dance
By Friedrich Kunzmann
April 25, 2019
Read New Jazz Standards, Vol. 4 Album Reviews
New Jazz Standards, Vol. 4
By Dan Bilawsky
April 24, 2019
Read Open Form For Society Album Reviews
Open Form For Society
By Mark Corroto
April 24, 2019
Read Yes Album Reviews
Yes
By John Sharpe
April 24, 2019
Read Avec le temps Album Reviews
Avec le temps
By Mark Sullivan
April 23, 2019
Read Snaketime: The Music Of Moondog Album Reviews
Snaketime: The Music Of Moondog
By Mark Corroto
April 23, 2019