For this Riverside date, George Russell assembled one of the most formidable lineups of the early 1960s--Eric Dolphy on sax and bass clarinet, Don Ellis on trumpet, David Baker on trombone, a youthful Steve Swallow on bass, and the fine & now forgotten Joe Hunt on drums. Russell had by this time moved (rather in the manner of Gil Evans) from the almost bewilderingly dense arrangements & compositions of his early work ("Lydian M-1", "All About Rosie", the Workshop disc, &c.) to a more openended approach. While "Thoughts" is a stunning close-knit arrangement, the rest of the pieces place more stress on improvisation within traditional jazz structures. "Honesty" is one highlight: it's a blues piece (by Baker) that splits each solo between a completely free section & a climactic old-time blues solo. Fine stuff. "Round Midnight" is a beautifully crafted showcase for Eric Dolphy, who leaps out of the quiet and eerie opening to deliver one of his most notable performances. "Ezz-Thetic" and "Lydiot" are angular, unpredictable themes that spur all the soloists on. "Nardis" is given a very individual colouring, taken at a much slower pace than I've heard anyone else play it.
This is one of Russell's most successful recordings; it is a great pity he never recorded again with Dolphy, in particular, as the altoist's grasp of the music is palpable. Russell was always skilled at constructing arrangements around musicians, rather than vice versa, like Ellington before him; he'd worked similar magic with Bill Evans before & with Sheila Jordan later. Don Ellis was to contribute to Russell's next few Riverside albums, however: his highly individual & expressive playing here & on albums like _The Outer View_ is a pleasure to hear. _Ezz-Thetics_ remains a landmark in postwar jazz: while it's less well-known than _Blues and the Abstract Truth_ or Gil Evans' work with Miles Davis, it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as them.