Wednesday, February 1, 2017

George Russell - 1971 - Electronic Sonata For Souls Loved By Nature

George Russell
Electronic Sonata For Souls Loved By Nature

01. Part One 26:03
02. Part Two 26:30

George Russell-piano
Jan Garbarek-tenor sax
Manfred Schoof-trumpet
Terje Rypdal-electric guitar
Jon Christensen-drums
Red Mitchell-drums

Recorded live at the Sonja Henie/Niels Onstad Center For The Arts, on April 28th, 1969, at Høvikodden, near Oslo, Norway.

The electronic tapes was composed in the Electronic Music Studios (EMS) of the Swedish Radio in Stockholm.

The tapes of African vocals and lute was recorded by Cal Floyd in 1967 in Nile headquarters region of North Uganda.

Composer, theorist, arranger, and pianist George Russell debuted his 14-part master composition "Electronic Sonata for Souls Loved By Nature" on April 28, 1969, at a concert in Norway. The ambitious, elaborate work blended bebop, free, Asian, and blues elements, as well as electronic effects, and mixed live performance with tape and vocal segments. It was a testimony to the prowess of trumpeter Manfred Schoof, tenor saxophonist Jan Garbarek, guitarist Terje Rypdal, bassist Red Mitchell, and drummer John Christensen that they weren't overwhelmed by the sheer weight of the experience. The digital mastering enables listeners to fully hear the disparate styles converging, and understand just how advanced Russell's concepts were, particularly for the time. While not everything worked, the composition ranks alongside Ornette Coleman's "Free Jazz" as one of jazz's finest, most adventurous pieces.

I was first introduced to the music of George Russell in the early 90's via his excellent early 60's albums "Stratus Seekers" & "Ezz Thetics." Russell's music of that era reminded me a great deal of artists such as Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, Cecil Taylor & Thelonious Monk. Later in the decade I was working in a used record shop when this album "Electronic Sonata For Souls Loved By Nature" walked through the door. Noticing that it was on the ultra cool Flying Dutchman label I put it aside so I could listen to it before putting it in the racks. I was really quite astounded by the record after giving it several spins. To be honest I really wasn't prepared for a George Russell album sounding like this, while many of Russell's early works leaned toward the progressive side of jazz, this album was in the same territory as Sun Ra at his wildest.

For this recording Russell assembled a group consisting largely of Scandinavian musicians which included hot-shot Norwegian electric guitarist Terje Rypdal. In some ways you can compare Russell's approach to this album to Soft Machine's "Third" album & The Grateful Dead's "Anthem Of The Sun" in that it blended studio recordings with live tapes thus creating an a truly "out there" listening experience. "Electric Sonata.." is basically one mammoth piece spread over both sides of an LP, both sides clocking in at 25 minutes+. A couple of reference points for this recording would be John Coltrane's "Ascension" album and Ornette Coleman's "Free Jazz" LP.

Oddly enough for most of this recording Russell takes a back-seat and lets his band have the limelight, for the most part Russell plays 2 or 3 simple chords throughout the entire piece, bringing to mind the repeated "number 9" from The Beatles "Revolution #9." Musically the piece ebbs and flows creating a cohesive but disorienting listening experience. At times Garbarek & Schoof spar with each other while Russell hammers away at the basic theme of the piece. Sometimes the piece is unified at other times it breaks down into chaos. Rypdal periodically appears to lend his distorted electric guitar phrases to the mix ala Ash Ra Tempel, then he completely disappears. Side 2 begins with a field recording of primitive African music from Uganda recorded in 1967 that is blended into the main piece with aid from Rypdal's menacing guitar. Towards the end of side two the whole recording fades into blank space which reminds me of the second side of the first Matching Mole album. Sadly my copy skips with about a minute to go & I have had no luck finding a reasonably priced second copy. I think the album was out shortly on CD, but the cheapest one I have seen is close to $50.

Russell should be given high marks for stepping outside the box and trying something radically new within the jazz idiom, I would say he was very successful at blending rock, jazz and Africa styles into a whole new bag. "Electronic Sonata For Souls Loved By Nature" is a highly ambitious recording that has a style all it's own. Though it was recorded in 1969, it wouldn't see release until 1971. A second part to this piece was released in 1980,

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