Hal Russell – Albert’s Lullaby
by John Barrett
Hal Russell dates from the first era of Chicago avant-garde, inspired many from the second wave (Ken Vandemark, etc.) and he always kept exploring, right up to his death. In 1991 his bassist booked a studio, and they ran wild: bass and drums crash hard, while Hal moves all directions at once. “Edge of Night” has a tenor that goes berserk; he keeps to the melody (it’s a soap opera theme) for maybe ten seconds. Hal twiddles fast, Michael Staron fiddles with fury; this sounds a lot like Charles Gayle.
The title tune is Brahms’ Lullaby sort of. Staron plays the theme in abstract, over and over; Russell flits around, from rusty honks to parodied vibrato. A squall commences, Rick Shandling goes big on vymbals Staron retains his calm. “Kyrie” is a segment of Catholic liturgy, begun with solemn bells. Staron bows the theme, while a gravel-tone trumpet interjects. Intensity bubbles: Hal grabs a mute, Michael makes a fast twitter, and convention departs as if it were ever here. Have mercy.
In five months Hal was back in the studio, this time at behest of Bradley Parker-Sparrow, partner in the facility. Sparrow’s at the piano for “Who’s There?”, batting the strings directly while the trumpet blasts louder than ever. Never an ace at the instrument, Hal does have a firmer tone this time, and he growls with distinction. Staron slaps the bass good, Sparrow hammers the low keys, then makes like Cecil Taylor. Now the tenor comes barking, as an austere rhythm forms an ordered type of chaos.
“Aural” moves slower, as classical piano inspires Hal’s best trumpet. Big shouts, then atmospheric echoes, and a cataclysmic finish worth hearing, though on the long side. Two Staron solo efforts slow the pace down (the best is a vivid take on Ayler’s “Ghosts”) and “To Groove” is a minute of soprano frenzy, wailed amid a sea of rattles. The disc is over, and no boundaries are left standing; Hal Russell was a fighter to the end.