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George Russell and the Living Time Orchestra: The 80th Birthday Concert

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Sadly, George Russell did not celebrate his 80th birthday in America. Unable to get funding in the U.S. to stage these concerts, Russell took his music to Europe, which has long revered the composer and theorist. The 80th Birthday Concert is culled from two performances by Russell’s Living Time Orchestra–one in London and the other in Dusseldorf. Both took place during the month Russell joined the jazz octogenarian’s club, June 2003.

The two-disc recording serves as a retrospective of sorts. Russell doesn’t perform anything from his early years, which means, sadly, no “Stratusphunk,” no “Ezz-Thetics.” He does give a lot of space to big, programmatic works from his expatriate days in Europe and Scandinavia. “Electric Sonata for Souls Loved by Nature” (from 1968) claims the first disc, and “The African Game” (from 1983) dominates the second. Neither work is the most engaging thing in Russell’s book, and the latter comes freighted with the clunky synth parts and chewy jazz-rock. If anything, strong solos from tenor saxophonist Andy Sheppard, guitarist Mike Walker and electrified trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg make these pieces worthwhile. More charming are the less ambitious set closers, including Russell’s recent composition “It’s About Time” and a cover of Miles Davis’ “So What,” where Mikkelborg, predictably, takes the lead.