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The Hal Russell NRG Ensemble

ECM

The late saxophonist/librettist/composer Hal Russell was something of a jazz-world anomaly. He began his largely unsung career with big bands, but changed course after he was inspired by searing avant-garde saxophonist Albert Ayler. Russell’s avant-garde compositions are characterized by a wit and originality often absent from such works. The Hal Russell Story, his last recording, showcases Russell the performer as well as Russell the composer: Both his cascading saxophone artistry and his alternately plangent and agitated ensemble passages are well documented here. An unpretentious yet evocative narrative emerges from the disc, which often finds the leader speaking through a megaphone like a considerably hipper Rudy Vallee. Yet while Vallee’s distorted crooning was part of the highly overrated (and largely fallacious) “Jazz Age” aesthetic popularized by authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Russell’s autobiographical assertions are clearly the words of someone who spent more time on the playing field than in the stands.