The 80th Birthday Concert
4 stars (Concept)
By John Fordham
Friday October 21 2005
George Russell, the revolutionary American composer, has collected Guggenheim and MacArthur fellowships, and been named an "American Jazz Master" by the National Endowment for the Arts - but still he couldn't get a US tour for his eccentrically thrilling Living Time Orchestra in his 80th year. So he played his birthday gigs in Europe instead. This exuberant live double album is the outcome. Much of the material that brought a Barbican crowd to their feet in June 2003 is here - notably a half-hour account of Electronic Sonata for Souls Loved by Nature, the lazily swinging arrangement of Miles Davis's famous So What solo, and a 40-minute, nine-movement treatment of the epic African Game.
Palle Mikkelborg's spacily echoing, Miles-like trumpet opens the show on Listen to the Silence. Then there's the Electronic Sonata: although you may want to pass on the bandleader's call-and-response rap with the band at its outset, it quickly becomes a churning jazz-funk thrash slashed through with wild trumpet ascents, laconic sax soloing from Andy Sheppard, ghostly slow drones and electronics and a guitar-powered abstract folk-dance. The huge African Game puts typical Russell Stravinsky-like chord-slams behind Sheppard, elicits floaty ambience from Mikkelborg and expresses dazzling melody with vivacious collective playing. Russell's So What arrangement is the distillation of hip - it almost sounds like a D'Angelo track at times - and includes a delicious Mikkelborg trumpet break. Even the long sequence of announcements and about three minutes of applause give you a vivid feeling for what the gigs felt like.
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