NRG Ensemble | Constellation | Jazz | Chicago Reader

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When: Sat., Aug. 17, 9:30 p.m. 2013

The NRG Ensemble was formed in the late 1970s by Hal Russell (1926-1992), a journeyman drummer who’d been seduced in his 40s by the siren sounds of Albert Ayler and took up the saxophone. Russell and the younger musicians he recruited into NRG kept free jazz alive in Chicago during the lean years of the 80, playing their face-peeling tunes—characterized by tight horn charts, woolly solos, and a prankish sense of humor—mostly in galleries, lofts, and tiny clubs. After Russell died, saxophonist Mars Williams (Extraordinary Popular Delusions, Liquid Soul, Psychedelic Furs) kept the group going with a succession of reedists in Russell’s spot, beginning with Ken Vandermark, and in the mid-90s they recorded a couple albums of compositions by the rest of the band. In recent years they’ve limited themselves to a show or two a year, including one every Halloween, but Williams and fellow NRG veterans Brian Sandstrom (bass, guitar, trumpet) and Steve Hunt (drums) have kept their chemistry combustible by playing a regular Monday-night gig with the Delusions. This weekend NRG, which for the occasion includes longtime bassist Kent Kessler, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm (who will also play cornet and electronics here), and guest alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella, will dust off the NRG songbook for another giddy blowout. —Bill Meyer

Price: $10

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