Two years after the release of Dragon Hill, Ray Russell had completely rethought his approach to jazz and free improvisation. The only remaining member of his quartet was drummer Alan Rushton, and added were the horn section of Harry Beckett, Nick Evans, and Tony Roberts from the four-piece choir that were featured sporadically on that album. Rites and Rituals focuses solely on exploration and power. The only player holding the floor in this new band was bassist Daryl Runswick. Russell was into playing the hell out of his guitar, employing effects combining scales in angular, edgy ways and trying to undo the notion of time. Rushton never played slower than double-time on anything, and often threw all notions of tempo and meter into the dustbin to make room for a "pure rhythm," one that danced alongside a soloist rather that provided his pulse. Inside the line was the deep funk groove that the horns created and Russell painted with fat, stabbing chords. Evans used his trombone like Maceo Parker played a saxophone. As the groove reached a fever pitch, as it did on "Sarana," the tune broke apart and evolved into a series of spacious yet frantic solos complete with studio distortion. On the title track, Roberts' whispering flutes and shifting timbres from Russell's heavily reverbed guitar create a spacious tension that is tread upon, lightly at first, by Rushton and Runswick, and answered harmonically by Beckett and Evans. They build chord structure and harmonic sequence in order to open a tonal space for improvisation by everyone simultaneously. Once it's open, it is explored tenuously at first, and then with the anger that only that era could produce. Each tune here -- there are four -- is a journey into that anger and into the question of how improvisation could engage jazz but be free of its historical entanglements, and was there a way to extend the boundaries of rock music, whose visceral power was enviable but presented a limited palette of expression. Rites and Rituals is an awesome exercise in the joy of freedom and a wonderful example of the changing face of electric jazz as it more fully embraced rock and funk's vocabularies.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek