The 41st of Jon Turney’s weekly selections finds a great composer-arranger getting the best from an Anglo-American ensemble.
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One of the late John Cumming’s many good deeds was bringing George Russell over from the US to play with a mixed Anglo-American band, originally for the Arts Council’s Contemporary Music Network. The first visit, in 1986 when the great man was in his early 60s, led to a series of big band tours of the UK and Europe.
And to this marvellous recording from Ronnie Scott’s, a great document. The Brits – Ian Carr, Andy Sheppard, Pete Hurt, Chris Biscoe, Ashley Slater, Steve Lodder et al, rose brilliantly to the challenge of Russell’s music. And it was challenging, but also immensely satisfying. In keeping with the times, he added to endlessly inventive scoring for harmony a deep interest in rhythm. Both were combined in a many-layered music, which was some of the most tightly organised and arranged work anyone tried to bring off on a jazz stage, while always swinging infectiously.
Less swinging at the start of this piece, which begins sounding like a lost, luminous, baroque fragment, before flipping into more contemporary mode and offering fine solos from Sheppard and Ian Carr. It’s a great way in – to the record, and to late Russell in general. I’ve been listening to him a lot this year, prompted by Duncan Heining’s excellent book, and this is as good as it got.
Listen to this track on Spotify
More on this recording on Jon’s Bristol Jazz Log
Read Jon’s introduction to the ’52 tracks’ series
Week 40. In case you missed it, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers
Spotify playlist for the series
The Folia: the Roccella Variations is the result of a commission to George Russell by Roccella Jazz Festival in Italy. In 1989 the festival artistic direction asked Russell to compose a track based on a Portoguese dance performed in the 16th century. In the following centuries many European composers developed the same theme. Russell got an essay written by a Greek scholar on the “Folia” and worked on that with a collaborator of his.