Don Ellis (trumpet) Dave Baker (trombone) John Pierce (alto sax) Paul Plummer (tenor sax) George Russell (piano) Stephen Swallow (bass) Joe Hunt (drums) recorded at Plaza Sound Studios, NYC, January 31, 1962
Russell’s core group Hunt, Baker and Plummer were from Indianapolis and the Septet is comprised mainly of musicians from his 1959 class at the Lenox School, Indiana, found playing in the Indiana University Jazz Orchestra. New-trumpet thing Don Ellis replaced predecessor Al Kiger, and Dolphy by John Pierce.
Along with companion title Ezz-thetics, The Stratus Seekers is part of a family of early ’60s recordings travelling the same path of avant-garde influenced bop, including Don Ellis’s How Time Passes ( Candid, 1960), Oliver Nelson’s Blues and the Abstract Truth (Impulse!, 1961), Mal Waldron’s The Quest (Riverside, 1961) Andrew Hill’s Point of Departure (Blue Note, 1964), an arguably, Kind of Blue itself. Unlike Ezz-thetics, which notably featured several rearranged jazz classics, all the composition here are attributed to Russell himself or his musicians. Russell was an intellectual and composer “at a time when the romantic figure of the soloist overshadowed every other aspect of jazz”.
Allmusic: The music has its own logic, is somewhat difficult to classify, yet deserves further attention by jazz historians and analysts.”
Wiki: Down Beat says of Russell: “His work abounds with such devices as polyphony, polytonality, and changing tempos and time signatures. He is also a brilliant orchestrator… producing constantly varying sonorities and textures.”
This is one to sit still, and listen. The selection Stereophrenic follows the internal logic of two forces at odds, a ragged unison horn line floats over a contra-rhythmic undertow, which bursts through to swing. The tenor soloist Plummer is a delight, Coltranesque pushing at the boundaries of the tonal centre, the altoist Pierce pushes further, while Russell places strategic comping infills which hold the conflicted structure together. There is an uncommon pleasure listening to the artfulness of this piece.
Though the musical personalities here do not quite come up to the mark of some earlier Russell recordings (Bill Evans, Eric Dolphy), the compositions are fresh, interesting and fulfil Whitney Balliet’s definition of jazz: the sound of surprise.
Vinyl: RLP 412 UK Interdisc 1st UK release, mono Philips pressing
I assume the title to be a play on words, of social critic and journalist Vance Packard’s book The Status Seekers, first published April 1959.
I can’t decipher the British cover. Unusual choice and deviation from the original. A cloud-covered planet seen from space? The Stratosphere?
My only visit to the US, back in the 80’s, included a stay in Indiana, spiritual home of the George Russell Sextet. I well remember a fellow passenger on the flight out of London’s Heathrow asking casually where I was bound. Indiana, I said. He thought hard for a moment, a long and theatrical pause, and asked, quizzically: “Why? “
I was not long in Indiana before the penny dropped. The hotel hospitality driver picked me up at the airport, and the conversation turned on where I was from. “London, England eh?” He frowned, searching for word associations, mostly coming up empty. “Is it true that London is always foggy? And your bobbies ride bicycles?” I thought, Yup, “En-g-land swings like a pendulum do” . So that’s what England looks like viewed from Indiana.
The portions of everything served at my waterside restaurant were huge, as were many of the people I observed. My server ingratiated himself to the point I put him down to attend my grandchildren’s birthday parties, though I had no grandchildren at the time.
On the short flight to Chicago a few days later, I couldn’t fail to notice that the passenger beside me was reading intently a magazine, called Guns and Ammo. To the other side, a sports magazine reader, studying an article about the recruitment of eight-foot tall basketball players from a particular tribe in Africa.
I concluded, perhaps, I was the odd one out.
Calling Londoners, London Calling
Up and coming London Jazz Event: Monk Comes to South Bermondsey London SE15 – Thursday 8th June 2017 (coincidentally, UK General Election Date. Vote Monk!)