Jazz has produced few theorists among its practitioners. George Russell wrote an influential book, The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization (1953, out of print), that was to become the reference point for the modal experiments of Miles Davis. It was an attempt to argue that the theoretical framework of jazz was sui generis. It constructed a theory around the diatonic progression from F to F on the white keys of the piano.
Ezz-thetics stands out among Russell's early recordings for the presence of Eric Dolphy and of the underrated Dave Baker. Baker's dizzying solo on the opening "Ezz-thetic" should have made trombonists of the time look beyond the post-bop clichés that they were too often resorting to.
Eric Dolphy is heard here on sparkling form, brimming with hypnotic power. "Ezz-thetic" provides a polytonal background that is ideal for Dolphy's exploration of the inner space of the harmonies. Dolphy is often regarded as a major exponent of "out" playing - he used the word in three of his album titles - taking the harmonies of a theme beyond their implied natural parameters. But this characterisation fails to account for his phenomenal ability to open up the inner attributes of chord or scale progressions in concentrated bursts of slurred scales and arpeggios.
This is particularly evident in his playing on "'Round Midnight", which here gets an unusual, simultaneously frenzied and languid treatment. It didn't appear on the original release, and its welcome addition to the current CD rounds off a session that marks a fascinating inflection in the direction that jazz was experiencing in the early 1960s.
Steve Swallow, who at the age of 20 had appeared on just two records for Jimmy Giuffre and one for Don Ellis earlier that year, provides a soft swinging groove to Russell's piano on "Lydiot", a kind of self-penned pun on Russell's own theory. "Honesty" is remarkable for starting like an ending. It makes ironic use of solemn changing tempos to suggest the end of a rather formal composition, only to reveal that this mock "finale" was in fact an introduction.
George Russell's Ezz-thetics is a complete stand-alone classic.