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This situation is especially tragic because, in my view, Russell's wild energy, madcap humor, disregard for propriety or genre convention, and respect for jazz tradition planted many of the seeds for the explosion that was occurring around the time of his death, when free jazz, experimental sounds, postrock, and who knows what else all collided here. NRG Ensemble carried on without Russell throughout the 90s—with Williams and Ken Vandermark occupying the front line—and made some good records, but it was obviously never the same. The group is no longer active, but it's been reconvening at about this time each year to indulge in a wild, woolly romp through the NRG songbook—an evening called "Hal the Weenie" after a Russell original that's also on Hal on Earth.
This year that free-jazz blowout happens tonight at the Beat Kitchen, taking the slot usually occupied by Extraordinary Popular Delusions, a four-piece which includes keyboardist Jim Baker and three former NRG members: Williams, bassist and guitarist Brian Sandstrom, and drummer Steve Hunt. They'll be joined by bassist Kent Kessler (another key ex-NRG member) and guest Dave Rempis on reeds. There will be two sets, starting at 9 PM. Below you can listen to "Raining Violets," but beware—it may set you off on a serious Hal Russell kick, like it did for me.
Hal Russell NRG Ensemble, "Raining Violets":
Justin Janer, Following Signs (Janer Music)
Christy & Emily, No Rest (Klangbad)
Christian Scott, Yesterday You Said Tomorrow (Concord Jazz)
Thad Jones, Motor City Scene (Liberty, Japan)
El Tanbura, Between the Desert and the Sea (World Village)