Saturday, February 26, 2005
George Russell: The Stratus Seekers.
Black History Month is winding down here at HurdAudio. Tonight I put on something that I've listened to off and on for nearly twenty years now: The Stratus Seekers from 1962 by George Russell.
The compositions on The Stratus Seekers are like old friends. "Pan-Daddy" opens this listening experience with an obvious reference to pan-tonality coupled with a swinging cool groove. This is George Russell's "Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization" put into practice both as a composition, arrangement and improvisational approach. Sonically this sounds like a close cousin of Ornette Coleman's harmelodic theory with more rhythmic quantization. Harmonically this music retains tonal gravitational centers without being "boxed in" by them. One could look at these theories as a means for systematically implementing chromaticism without resorting to atonality. As a means of improvisation I look at it an elaborate method of chord and scale substitutions.
The title track is ambitious and seriously cool. The CD reissue features two takes which gives me a chance to gauge the flexibility and degree to which each individual performance varies in the details. Don Ellis's trumpet solo really catches my ear on the second take. As does Dave Baker's work on the trombone.
"Blues in Orbit" shows off Russell's melodic sensibility as well as leaving plenty of room for individual soloists to really strut their stuff. This is a great rhythm section for this kind of playing with Steve Swallow on bass and Joe Hunt on the drums. Russell's harmonic voicings on the piano have that "Lydian Chromatic" flavor to them. Steve Swallow would later go on to develop some similar harmonic innovations of his own with the Bill Evans Trio that have been a lasting influence on jazz bass players ever since.
This is harmonically vivid music. The practical application of Russell's Lydian Chromatic theory makes a strong argument for the creative vitality and substance of his ideas.