Hal Russell NRG Ensemble | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Hal Russell NRG Ensemble



NRG is for "energy," of course--that's certainly what these fervent Chicagoans bring to today's often-sleepy jazz scene. Youngest in spirit of the quintet is its grizzled, white-haired leader, who was already an established bebopper when the free-jazz revolution first led him to raise musical hell over three decades ago. That revolutionary ardor, inflamed by the innovations of Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, and their fellow radicals, burst forth in the early 80s in the form of the NRG Ensemble, featuring Russell's high musical intelligence and several marvelously rebellious junior flamewthrowers for colleagues. NRG plays 400 crafty original compositions by all of its members, but mostly by Russell; they range from funhouse-mirror variations on standards and swing music to intense explorations of sound combination, color, and mood. NRG sounds like different bands from song to song because of all the instruments they play: Russell and Steve Hunt play drums and vibes, and Russell plays trumpet and saxes as well; Mars Williams plays several saxophones, too; Kent Kessler and Brian Sandstrom both play bass and electric bass, and Sandstrom also plays trumpet and hair-raising electric guitar. Their latest CD, titled The Finnish/Swiss Tour (ECM), was released in Europe last fall to enthusiastic reviews. It's now been released in America, too, which is why Russell, Club Lower Links, and the Jazz Record Mart are throwing this record-release party. Thursday, 9 PM, Club Lower Links, 954 W. Newport; 248-5238.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Steven Gross.

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