George Russell - Ezz-Thetics


Re-release date: September 11th 2007

Original release date: May 1961

 Ezz-Thetics cover

"Ezz-Thetics" is the most approachable of pianist George Russell's run of jazz albums from 1956 – 1962 that promised a whole redefinition of what is possible in jazz. While he is known now as the educator and theorist who pioneered modal jazz, it is often forgotten that in this period before he left to live and work in Europe, he led an active and acclaimed band featuring important jazzers such as Don Ellis, Steve Swallow and Eric Dolphy.

Here, with Don Ellis (trumpet), Eric Dolphy (alto sax, bass clarinet), Dave Baker (trombone). Steve Swallow (bass) and Joe Hunt (drums), the sextet explores six themes, including Miles Davis' "Nardis", Thelonious Monk's "Round About Midnight" and Dave Baker's “Honesty,” alongside three George Russell originals "Ezz-Thetics", "Lydiot" and "Thoughts".

The music is challenging but understandable, expanding post bop orthodoxy in terms different to the modal experimentation of Miles Davis or John Coltrane. George Russell's piano playing is at times close that of Thelonious Monk while Eric Dolphy is suitably tangential in his approach, especially in his take on "Round About Midnight", transforming it from the mood piece it had become into the edgy interrogation achieved here. Yet there is no retreat "outside" into free jazz, more a series of new inspiring departures inside the blues and bop traditions.

George Russell's masterwork "The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization", had been influential on a generation of jazz musicians that included Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Bill Evans amongst many others. However, as Richard Cook and Brian Morton succinctly point out just what is being proposed is still not well appreciated. It is certainly the case that the work is not merely attempting to recover Greek musical modes (such as the Lydian mode). As Cook and Morton observe: "Russell's conception assimilated modal writing to the extreme chromaticism of modern music. By converting chords into scales and overlaying one scale on another, it allowed improvisers to work in the hard to define area between non-tonality and polytonality." We explore this further in relation to Miles Davis.

This remastered re-release of "Ezz-Thetics" is a welcome opportunity to re-engage with George Russell's music and, hopefully, the beginning point of a long delayed reappraisal of his achievement in jazz.

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Bret Primack's video for Concord Records interviewing Orrin Keepnews on George Russell "Ezz-thetics"

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