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This Is My House

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Album Review

This Is My House is the NRG Ensemble's second CD with saxophonist Ken Vandermark on board in place of the late Hal Russell, yet oddly it has a more transitional feel to it than the group's previous album, Calling All Mothers. Unlike that record, This Is My House doesn't feature any of Russell's tunes — Vandermark and fellow reedman Mars Williams take care of seven of the eight pieces, with drummer Steve Hunt accounting for the other. While there are a couple of more "traditional" NRG free bop blowouts (see "Hyperspace" and "Bustanut"), the focus leans toward lengthier, more episodic, and more structured compositions. Vandermark's "Bullseye Witness," which strings together free duo improvisations, lopsided funk rhythms, screaming horn solos, and multiple melodic themes in the space of its ten-plus minutes, is an example of this tendency, though it's not as fluid or coherent as some of the saxophonist's later efforts (see Target or Flag-era Vandermark 5). "Burnt Toast" and "Straight Time" are more effective, as they emphasize the more full-tilt, high-energy mode the band seems more comfortable with and enthusiastic about. "Straight Time" in particular, with its sinister, bassline-generated groove and scalding tenor solo by Williams, shows the kind of awesome power and intensity this lineup was capable of producing. Such moments certainly make the album worthwhile for fans, but due to its somewhat inconsistent, under-edited nature (i.e., it is simply too long), This Is My House doesn't rate as the best starting point for folks interested in this group.

Biography

Formed: Detroit, MI

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Multi-instrumentalist and bandleader Hal Russell was a key figure in the free jazz movement from its beginnings in the late '50s through the '80s. Russell is most closely associated with the Chicago free jazz scene and, from the late '70s on, he headed a quintet and a trio in what he called NRG Ensembles. The incompetence of the group's original saxophonist led Russell to take up saxophone himself (at the age of 50), and he became an enthusiastic performer on tenor and soprano. (Russell also played...
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This Is My House, NRG Ensemble
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Contemporaries