Music George Russell and the Living Time Orchestra The Forum, Bath

'The musicians responded with the necessary fireworks and the concert ended with a bang'

The American composer George Russell is celebrated as a kind of jazz version of Sir Alf Ramsey. Back in the Fifties he invented a tactical system for improvisers that changed the rules of the game, making modes derived from scales replace chords - the jazz counterpart to wingers - as the principal units of exchange in his new method. This allowed (or so the theorists reckon) soloists like Miles Davis and John Coltrane to become a strike force unlike any known before, free to concentrate on melody as much as they liked without being imprisoned within the same sequence of chords. Unlike Alf, Russell's revolution did not win him much glory and it is only in the past decade or so that he has begun to achieve the fame he deserves, after being consigned for years - like many an unsuccessful English manager - to a period of wilderness in the training grounds of Scandinavia.

Now a sprightly 73, and dressed like a very hip pensioner, Russell is basking in the late glow of fame. After touring Britain a number of times in the past with an excellent version of his orchestra made up largely of British players, he has, for this latest Contemporary Music Network tour, brought over a few more members of his American band, including the trumpeter Stanton Davis, who first recorded with him in Norway in 1970, to mix with the best of the locals, like Andy Sheppard, Chris Biscoe and Steve Lodder. Possibly because of the new band structure, this performance paid more attention to the compositions than it did to free-flowing blowing, and Russell's complex, multi-layered works, like "Living Time", seemed to be treated with too much respect for their own good.

In the second half, however, things started to loosen up. On "American Trilogy" (not the Elvis number), the simple melody of "You Are My Sunshine" (a Russell favourite since the album The Outer View in 1962, when it was a feature for Eric Dolphy) was brazenly deconstructed by trumpeter Davis and trombonist Dave Bargeron before re-emerging as a first-line New Orleans anthem. From then on, in a new commission entitled "It's About Time", Russell gave his musicians their heads, pointing at a soloist as if lighting the blue touch paper and then standing well back to admire the resulting explosion. Sheppard and Chris Biscoe on saxes, Tiger Okoshi on trumpet and Mike Walker on guitar responded with the necessary fireworks and the concert ended with a bang.

Unlike Sir Alf, Russell appeared to be profoundly moved by the ecstatic response of the crowd. As far as I'm aware, Ramsey never did a funky little dance along the touchline when his wingless wonders scored, either. More's the pity.

PHIL JOHNSON

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