Hal Russell's Chemical Feast Elixir

The Unheard Music Series is getting more obscure all the time - for our listening pleasure! Elixir is a prime slab of one of the more unappreciated figures in Chicago jazz, Hal Russell. Russell's best-known project was the NRG Ensemble, who did some major damage to the ECM aesthetic in the '80s. This live tape, recorded a month before the formation of NRG, captures Russell at his frenetic best on drums and sax. Opening with a jaunty take on Ornette's "Broadway Blues," things get frenetic very quickly. This is free improv in the great American tradition: lots of energy, an accent on the blues and a rhythm section that plays as a section. Russell is irrepressible on drums; he borrows from Ed Blackwell with a nod to Sunny Murray, but is even less concerned with precision than either of those two. What he lacks in fancy flourishes he makes up for in guts. He's a leader that makes everyone around him play better. Mars Williams, who now plays with Ken Vandermark, is an excellent sax player, but he really outdoes himself in this combo, sharing the frontline with Spider Middleman. George Southgate's vibes are excellent! There aren't too many examples of "outside" vibes and he plays superbly off Russell's drumming, and a bowed zither on "Manas." The sound quality of this performance is on the gritty side, but heightens the inherent force of the music. This record will be an important addition to the Chicago jazz canon, bridging the legends of the '60s with today's vital scene. (Atavistic)