FROM CHICAGO: THE NRG ENSEMBLE
Mars Williams: tenor, alto, soprano and sopranino saxophones, clarinet, didgeridoo, toy horns, wood flutes, whistles…
Dave Rempis: tenor, alto, baritone saxophones
Brian Sandstrom: acoustic bass, electric guitar, trumpet
Kent Kessler: acoustic and electric basses, trombone, didgeridoo
Steve Hunt: drums, vibraphone, percussion
Fred Lonberg-Holm: cello, guitar, cornet
The NRG Ensemble was formed in the late 1970s by Hal Russell (1926-1992), a journeyman drummer who’d been seduced in his 40s by the siren sounds of Albert Ayler and took up the saxophone. Russell and the younger musicians he recruited into NRG kept free jazz alive in Chicago during the lean years of the 80’s, playing their face-peeling tunes—characterized by tight horn charts, woolly solos, and a prankish sense of humor—mostly in galleries, lofts, and tiny clubs. After Russell died, saxophonist Mars Williams (Psychedelic Furs, Liquid Soul, Extraordinary Popular Delusions) kept the group going with a succession of reedists in Russell’s spot, beginning with Ken Vandermark, and currently Dave Rempis, and along with NRG veterans Brian Sandstrom, Kent Kessler and Steve Hunt, they recorded three albums of original & Hal Russell compositions.
With the revamped and revitalized NRG Ensemble, the group draws upon lessons learned during the long apprenticeship with the late Hal Russell but is also striking out in uncharted directions, harnessing free jazz intensity to rock’s sound and fury onto fiendishly tight arrangements, at all times revealing a group understanding that verges on the telepathic. The labyrinthine, furiously swinging saxophone exchanges between Mars Williams and Dave Rempis reinvent the concept of the “tenor battle”. The group’s multi-instrumentalism – at its most extreme in Brian Sandstrom’s rotation between electric guitar, acoustic bass and trumpet and Fred Lonberg-Holm’s cello, electronics, guitar and cornet, frequently gives the ensemble the reach of a big band. Steve Hunt’s inventive drumming and Kent Kessler’s strong, muscular bass propel the group forward.