Recorded live in Berlin a year before his death, Chicago avant-garde legend Hal Russell showed no signs of slowing down. Indeed, given the late start he got in recording, Russell -- on trumpet, tenor, and soprano here -- and pianist Joel Futterman were going for their guns throughout this gig. The rhythm section of bassist Jay Oliver and drummer Robert Adkins has trouble in spots keeping up with the fiery duo, particularly Russell, whose long reach on the soprano and his ability to play long, skittering cascades of notes in one breath made for difficult tempo and harmonic choices for his rhythm section. Futterman is the anchor, communicating deftly between Russell's otherworldly yearning to transcend the academic constraints of his instruments and the bowed, beaten, and plucked innuendoes of the rhythm cats. Nowhere is this more evident than on "Solid Colors," where for 21 minutes Futterman feeds Russell enough line to find the ledge to jump from and keeps in check a rhythm section held tensely at bay by the fiery exuberance of the bandleader. He does so by shoving blues and swing figures at them in fluctuating tempo changes that keep them up to speed with Russell's loose, winding, tangled, and revelatory improvisations. When Russell lays out for Futterman's solos, you can hear how tightly he holds the reins on this band, and how much they look to him for guidance in the hairy -- but beautiful -- moments on this gig. Russell, more than on either ECM disc, dumps the need for exchange in interval, harmony, or rhythm, much less melody. He figures the band will keep up as best they can while he searches for the other end of the rainbow at the ends of the earth. His tone is strong, strident, and his ideas are everywhere, seldom seeing their fruition -- as if that were a foregone conclusion -- before racing off into another dimension, like the instrument switches in the aforementioned tune. In all, though, it's almost all the live Hal Russell we have, and the strength and enormity of the emotion of this gig help to solidify his already enigmatic reputation. This is a mighty date with plenty for free jazz fans to celebrate.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek