George Russell

The African Game

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George Russell's The African Game is a major statement, a highly eclectic, nine-part, 45-minute suite for augmented big band that attempts to depict no less than the evolution of the species from the beginning of time to the present from an African perspective. Well, yes, this theme has been taken on by many an ambitious artist in every field, but Russell's work is remarkably successful because it tries to embrace a massive world of sound in open, colorful, young-thinking terms, with degrees of timbral unity and emotion to keep the idioms from flying out of control. There are traditional big band sounds here, but one is more likely to encounter electronics, African drumming by the five-piece group Olu Bata, atonality, rock, funk, even the sound of electric pencil sharpeners. Ironically, the section with the strongest injections of funk is entitled "The Survival Game (Survival of the Fittest)" -- possibly a barbed comment on the mercenary realities of the music business -- and "The Mega-Minimalist Age (Style Over Substance: The Decline of the Spirit)" leaves no doubt as to Russell's jaundiced view of commercial pop culture. The recording was made with help of grants from the state of Massachusetts and the NEA at the work's American premiere in a Boston church, and the performance sounds crisp and well-rehearsed. Indeed, this release Russell's first on a U.S. label in 13 years, and was an early sign from the newly revived (as of 1985) Blue Note label that they intended to be a major force in the jazz business again after sporadic patches of activity and neglect. So they have been ever since, despite deleting this CD.

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