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.
I was first exposed to Jazz when a couple of dear friends of mine turned me onto it around 1971. I was already into Progressive music, R n' B, Soul, Motown, Latin Rock and other styles that were a great ladder to Jazz
I was first exposed to Jazz when a couple of dear friends of mine turned me onto it around 1971. I was already into Progressive music, R n' B, Soul, Motown, Latin Rock and other styles that were a great ladder to Jazz.
Being a Musician myself, (Lead Guitar/Bass Guitar), I studied at the Dick Grove School of Music with Dick Grove, Jeff Richman and Lee Ritenour. This was around '84-'85. I started playing the Guitar in November 1967. Playing Guitar came quite naturally to me thank goodness. Though I spent hours upon hours practicing while my school buddies were doing Sports.
It was in the early '70s that I really got into Jazz, Jazz Rock, Jazz Fusion and World Music. Seeing Weather Report, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Larry Carlton, Steely Dan, John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, RTF, Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters, VSOP, Freddie Hubbard and so many, many more amazing artists opened my eyes to the beauty and eloquent nature of Jazz. I really love the brilliant ensemble playing that is in Jazz!!
When I play and write music, it blends so many style together. Many fans ask me why my playing sounds so jazzy. It's because I understand Blue Notes, the phrasing, the tonality, time signatures and more. I can also play Rock, Folk, Soul, R n' B and other styles too. I seem to gravitate more and more as I get older to a jazzier style. Currently I'm 62 years old. I have released 2 CDs world-wide. Working on my 3rd.
I also teach Guitar/Bass/Music Theory to my students. They range from 6 years old to much, much older. (I was hired by the City of Aurora, CO to teach ages 6-13 specifically). Currently I teach 41 children in 5 classes. Additionally another 7 private students.
My wife, Meesh, and I love Jazz dearly. It was one of the things that we share together!
Most of the people that I know today do not get jazz. I try to explain what to listen for, but many times the music of Jazz is a bit much for them. So be it.
In a nutshell, I live, breath and listen to Music 24/7. No TV except the Food Channel and Weather.
I love John Kelman's articles. They are so insightful and well-constructed!
Thank you all for doing what you do.