Hal Russell / NRG Ensemble

Hal on Earth

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Originally a 1989 cassette-only release, Hal on Earth eventually made its way onto CD in a few years later and stands as the NRG Ensemble's last studio release prior to founder Hal Russell's death in 1992. However, the band was at a peak during this time, and this album showcases everything that made it such a singular group. From the inspired, one-upping interplay between Russell and fellow saxophonist Mars Williams to the manic pacing and daffy sense of humor (often evident in Russell's screwball theme melodies), this album makes it clear that the group was truly enjoying itself as it played. Several tracks are in the careening, quick-hitting free bop style that was one of NRG's trademarks ("Calling All Mothers," "Monica's Having a Baby"), and there are a couple of bona fide saxophone blowouts that find Russell and Williams' horns screeching into dog whistle territory. However, there is some variety as well. "Ode to Monica Chavez" is a ballad that features the leader on trumpet, backed up by three droning didgeridoos and Brian Sandstrom's slide guitar, while "Hal on Earth" is a more dynamic, multi-sectioned piece typical of percussionist Steve Hunt's occasional writing contributions to the group. It is worth noting that the ECM release The Finnish/Swiss Tour, recorded at around the same time, contains live versions of six of this CD's 11 tunes. However, the versions are fairly different; the actual composed sections are fairly brief -- mainly serving as jumping-off points for the group's wild improvisations -- so fans may find themselves wanting both CDs. Newcomers, on the other hand, can safely start with either recording in order to get a picture of what this group was all about.

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