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Georges Russel Presents
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George Russell Presents The Esoteric Circle
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This is a rare gem of late 60s European jazz, often presented as the debut album of saxophonist Jan Garbarek, but is much more than that. It includes work of the finest Nordic musicians, who came to define a certain jazz sensibility. Composer George Russell spent several years in Europe in the late 60s, recording two albums of his own work. For these he utilised the cream of Scandinavian jazz talent. The Esoteric Circle were formed from this group: Garbarek, Terje Rypdal, Arild Andersen and Jon Christensen who, over the next ten years helped to create the core sound of ECM Records. Jan Garbarek became one of the most celebrated and commercially successful players of his generation, with best-selling albums such as Officium and In Praise Of Dreams. This recording was made at an early stage of their development. There is a touch of Coltrane and Ayler in Garbarek's playing. Rypdal is stunning, using both clever runs and ambient noise to sustain a sonic attack. All four demonstrate an understanding and musicality which makes this one of the finest European albums of the period. This is the first time this LP has been reissued with its original album art.
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George Russell, known for his Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization (whew!), which is a fancy way of saying jazz played on a modal scale (like Miles Davis would popularize) recorded some of his best work in Norway which brought him into contact with three-quarters of this group. Impressed by their playing Russell brought them together (adding Andersen) to record this set of compositions by Garbarek. Both Garbarek and Rypdal are out front here, but Andersen (hear his opening solo on "Vips") and Christensen are very important to the overall sound of the music. Andersen uses a bow on some things here, and Christensen slips in deft touches all over these tunes.
This (obviously) early set of jazz isn't as refined as fans of any of these musicians would come to hear later on. But it's an indication of where these four players would take music on (primarily) the ECM label a short while later. Even at this stage the playing is pretty fine--there's a lot going on for a group who just came together. Garbarek's playing is at times fiercely intense and other times more reflective sounding, and even lyrical ("Breeze Ending") in spots. Rypdal's playing reflects his previous rock band guitar playing--using various tone pedals and vibrato to shape his sound. He even slips in some electronic sounds on "Karin's Mode" (for singer Karin Krog) which alters the tune into something farther away from a more "traditional" song.
With titles like "Traneflight", and "Nefertite" you'll hear a slight homage to Davis, Coltrane, and Pharoah (sic) Sanders (listen to Garbarek's opening solo on the short "Nefertite"), even while the group is trying to find their own path through this music. If you're a fan of any/most/all of these musicians this will prove to be an interesting and entertaining set of tunes. Listening to this set is hearing the first attempt at coming to grips with this new modal style of jazz by four musicians who would go on to play some of the best "new" jazz from Europe. What the music lacks in definition and style is made up for with a certain newness in the playing as they discover new areas to take their music. It's a pretty fascinating journey for anyone who wants to hear the first recorded efforts of these four players as a band, and the beginnings of ECM/European style jazz that would soon flourish.