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Why George Russell Will Always Live in Time

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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But absolutely nothing could prepare audiences for The African Game (Blue Note, 1983). This was Russell's Magnum opus. A highly eclectic, nine-event 45-minute suite for augmented big band that depicted the dawn of human civilization from—as we now know—the correct, African perspective. The work attempts, successfully, to embrace an enormous world of sound in an open, colorful manner, with several degrees of timbral unity and emotion, to keep the various idioms from flying out of control. This is a celebrated recording by Russell—his first in 13 years, made with his latest large ensemble, The Living Time Orchestra, a unit that was to be, with personnel changes, his last and greatest big band. That record was followed quickly by So What (Blue Note, 1983). Here too, the Living Time Orchestra responds to Russell's direction with the same kick that typified his Promethean career that began in the 50s and also featured one of his last long compositions, "Time Spiral."

Then again there was a long period of inactivity, before Russell made the first of three visits to the UK. Between 1986 and 1988, he performed and put together London Concerts Vols 1 & 2 (Label Bleu, 1989). Then the recording trail went cold again. But nothing really could prevent George Russell from staying close to the music he so loved. When Gunther Schuller had persuaded him to return to the US in 1969, he did not simply come back. He joined Schuller at the New England Conservatory of Music. He played festivals and he broadcasted in North America and in Europe. His last record was the gargantuan 80th Birthday Concert (Concept Publishing, 2005). Too bad he was stricken by Alzheimer's towards the end of his life, incapacitated not unlike that other compositional genius, Charles Mingus. But it may be that George Russell may not be done after all. Perhaps he will celebrate with a chair in the sky. While down here, we in the world will wait with bated breath.

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