Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"A post-war masterpiece, Ezz-Thetics is pianist/arranger George Russell's definitive 1961 sextet recording from the earliest phase of his multi-decade career. On par with such iconic albums as Oliver Nelson's Blues and the Abstract Truth (Impulse!, 1961), Mal Waldron's The Quest (Riverside, 1961) and Andrew Hill's Point of Departure (Blue Note, 1964), Ezz-Thetics traffics in the same advanced but accessible strain of avant-garde-influenced post-bop.
Author of The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization (pub. 1953), Russell's seminal concepts of improvisation, based on scales rather than chords, became the driving force behind the early modal explorations of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. This pioneering session offers a singular and visionary view of classic post-bop that is ageless in its perfection.
Starring a phenomenal group of talent, Russell's sextet features multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy, trumpeter Don Ellis, trombonist Dave Baker, a young Steve Swallow on acoustic bass and drummer Joe Hunt. Undaunted by Russell's unorthodox arrangements and tricky, pan-tonal harmonic sensibility, these young firebrands tackle these knotty compositions with flawless technique and unbounded creativity.
"Ezz-Thetic" opens the album with a bustling, circuitous theme that ripples with spiraling angularity. Inspiring a round of exhilarating statements from the horns, the tune breaks down into a sequence of recurrent call and response between the rhythm section and brass that eschews typical conventions of pattern and form.
Supported by subtle counterpoint and an elegant arrangement, Miles Davis' exotic "Nardis" is given a haunting reading. The sly and unassuming "Lydiot" reveals Russell's minimalist angularity behind the piano, while Dolphy displays a keening, expressive aspect in contrast to Ellis' dulcet trumpet.
Using the blues as a basic framework, Baker's contribution, "Thoughts," incorporates free-form sections at regular intervals, exposing the fine line between tradition and innovation. "Honesty" is a celebratory ode; a vibrant hybrid of classic swing and edgy futurism that contrasts bluesy lyricism with suspenseful, stop-time segments.
A prescient rendition of Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight" acts as a showpiece for Dolphy. Opening with a free-form section of tiny instrumental sounds and highly vocalized brass effects, it pre-dates the work of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Music) by almost a decade. A brilliant study in dynamics and virtuosity, Dolphy's alto solo is legendary. Incorporating intervallic leaps and register changes with a highly vocalized tone and mellifluous phrasing, he offers a definitive statement on a hallowed theme.
Two takes of the previously unissued "Kige's Tune" appear as bonus tracks. A driving bop-ish vehicle, it is a worthwhile addition, providing the perfect coda to a brilliant session.
Cerebral and innovative, yet firmly grounded in tradition, Ezz-Thetics is essential listening and an absolute requirement for any comprehensive jazz collection. Russell's masterwork is beautiful, enthralling and adventurous, a perfect summation of all the innovations post-war jazz has to offer." -AllAboutJazz
"It is not often that a CD is utterly captivating from the first few measures upon first listening. Some recordings capture so accurately a period of music and are so spontaneously perfect that their listeners are enthralled from start to finish, much like children on Christmas morning. Ezz-Thetics is such a CD, in the company of watermarks like Kind of Blue and The Blues and the Abstract Truth ; this is no overstatement.
1961 saw the first signs of acceptance of the new music being dubbed "avant-garde" or "The New Thing" - Eric Dolphy's stint at the Five Spot, Coltrane's run at the Village Vanguard, and the release of Ornette Coleman's legendary Free Jazz generated as much praise as they did controversy. George Russell, the mastermind behind the development of modal playing and author of The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, had long been forging a unique path, teaching students as destined for greatness as Bill Evans and Art Farmer. The stars aligned perfectly on May 8th for Russell to take emerging talents Don Ellis (trumpet), Dave Baker (trombone), Eric Dolphy (alto sax, bass clarinet), a very young Steve Swallow (bass), and Joe Hunt (drums) into the studio.
The title track leads off the album with scorching solos all around. The knotty melody follows its own logic, but sounds somewhat like "Brilliant Corners"-meets-"Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum". After a haunting rendition of Miles Davis' "Nardis," featuring Dolphy on bass clarinet, we have another burner, one whose title is Russell taking a jab at himself - "Lydiot." Of special note here should be Russell's performance in the piano chair. Though often revered for his theories and compositions, Russell is rarely recognized as a memorable improviser. This is an unjust oversight, as his playing here rivals Monk for sheer inventiveness and unpredictability. This is not to say he pounds the keys in Cecil Taylor-esque abandon; instead, his solo could be described with some accuracy as "minimalist," and more than anything else digs at the heart of the composition. Tunefulness pervades this adventurous recording, as evidenced by Dave Baker's "Honesty," a bluesy requiem on which the musicians blow the chords from New York to San Francisco. The "'Round Midnight" that closes the set is a special one. After a one-minute "kind of instrumental imitation of electronic sounds" (Martin Williams, from the original liner notes) Dolphy takes the melody in full regalia. There is no squeaking dissonance to be found here - nothing but pure soul. Dolphy has succeeded in eliminating the horn as a medium through which music is produced - his music is pure. At times it sounds as though he is crying, pleading, singing, and celebrating; Russell's sympathetic accompaniment does nothing but add to this version of Monk's magnum opus, which should be required listening for all.
I have rarely heard more convincing testimony in favor of cerebral jazz open to many oustide influences, including (but not exclusively) atonalities and dissonances. Ezz-Thetics receives my highest recommendation to both devoted fans of the avant-garde and to those wary of what they've heard described as "mindless banging" - this is the album that will dispel all preconceived notions in the best possible way." -AllAboutJazz
Personnel: George Russel (piano); Eric Dolphy (alto saxophone, flute, bass clarinet); Don Ellis (trumpet); Dave Baker (trombone); Steve Swallow (acoustic bass); Joe Hunt (drums).
George Russell is one of those jazz composers whose influence is felt far more than his music has been heard. Russell developed the concept of playing jazz based on scales and modes rather than chord changes--which, roughly, means his music, though firmly based in jazz, sounds like almost no other, maintaining a fresh, immediate quality. EZZ-THETICS is a 1961 recording featuring some players who would go on to make jazz history in their own ways: Eric Dolphy, Steve Swallow and Don Ellis.
Russell's compositions are thoughtful, full of the unexpected, yet are melodious and swing like mad. The title track features some cheerfully twisted and twisting unison playing from the horns, and percussive, Monk-tinged piano from Russell. "Thoughts" mixes cubist bebop with the late-night after-hours blues. One of the two covers here is the rare Mile Davis tune "Nardis" (which Miles wrote but never recorded), given a pensive yet heart-swelling and thoroughly gorgeous ballad treatment.
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