Ray Russell

Live at the ICA: Retrospective

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Following the release of Rites and Rituals in 1971, Ray Russell's sextet was offered the chance to be recorded live during a concert at the ICA. That show, on June 11, 1971, was issued as an album. The whole of that recording is used here, along with a retrospective of other live recordings and studio outtakes of some of his better-known material. As intense as the Dragon Hill and Rites and Rituals LPs are, they do little to prepare the listener for the experience of the intense telepathic communication these musicians were capable of in front of a live audience. The colors are so much deeper, so much brighter, and the spaces so much more open in concert, that it's easy to hear where the sextet preferred to spend its time. Tracks one through four are all at the ICA and contain virtually the same personnel from Rites and Rituals minus Nick Evans. The standout is the four-part blowing session suite "Stained Angel Morning," where Russell reveals how deeply into the free jazz and heavy metal camps he really was. His stabbing, singing notes and psychotic runs up the fretboard have nothing to do with scalular architecture, but rather with viscera and tonal exploration. Harry Beckett and Tony Roberts were both moving away from the traditional scenes they'd grown up in, and further into areas inhabited by the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the Sun Ra Arkestra. They were hearing Lester Bowie, Marshall Allen, Anthony Braxton, and Roscoe Mitchell, and moving into free jazz with open eyes. The awesome tonal and harmonic assaults and transformations that occur among the musicians in "Stained Angel Morning" cannot be overstated. There is music on this suite that had never been made before and hasn't been heard since. Another ICA date, from 1978, features the late saxophone wild man Gary Windo and pianist Brian Roberts, who also plays synthesizer. To listen to the rapport between Windo and Russell is to hear two men who believe firmly in freedom at all costs and are willing to help each other get there. The tonal explorations that this sextet undertook were wild, unruly, and literally savage. The musicians' ability to generate harmonics from inside the frame of a given improvisation and manage simultaneous consonance and dissonance was remarkable. And they rocked like champions while doing it. Disc two features the studio version of "Stained Angel Morning," one of the most psychotic unruly pieces of guitar fury ever recorded; it achieves all the feedback tones and affected sounds that Hendrix could get without the whammy bar or effects boxes and pedals. This is seven minutes of complete noise rock meltdown by a virtuoso guitarist. He doesn't need the notes multiplied to get the same effect; he just plays the guitar like he's strangling the thing and it's fighting for its life. The rest of disc two comes from various live gigs throughout the band's history. Each track is more outrageous and more profoundly disturbing than what came before. All of the current noise freaks -- Keiji Haino, Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo, Rudolph Grey, Masaki Batoh, Alan Licht (who wrote the liner notes to this set), and even Jim O'Rourke -- owe a great debt to Russell and this band; they showed beyond all doubt that a perfect "fusion" of free jazz and hard rock was the most natural thing in the world.

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