The big question is, whither the NRG Ensemble without its founder-leader Hal Russell? The endlessly creative drummer-vibist-trumpeter-saxophonist-singer-composer Russell, who died last month at age 66, was the band’s central source of energy, humor, and wild imagination. But his loyal sidemen were not just supporting players; they were proficient and vivid individuals themselves, so Saturday night’s memorial concert will provide an important first answer to the big question. The grizzled, white-haired captain who led his young crew through the jazz storms of the 80s and 90s–and who blew up quite a few storms of his own just to keep life interesting–left behind a body of several hundred compositions, and that will be the basis of this tribute. Russell’s veteran young partner Chuck Burdelik, who plays woodwinds on NRG’s first three albums, will rejoin the band for this concert. The other ensemble members will be Mars Williams on tenor sax; Brian Sandstrom on bass, guitar, and trumpet; Kent Kessler on bass; and Steve Hunt, on drums. Also on the program are two other bands that Russell began, the NRG 3 + 1 and the Flying Luttenbachers, and two groups of young Russell pupils–the All Nations Orchestra and the Anointed Ones. Plus Russell in 3-D (3-D glasses supplied) and Russell on video, including the award-winning “Pontiac.” Just as the New Orleans jazz artists of the early era ended their mourning with celebration, the Hal Russell Memorial Concert is subtitled “A Joyous Noise on Hal-o-ween” becuase musical joy, after all, was what Hal Russell was all about. It’s free to the public, 8 PM, Southend Musicworks, 1313 S. Wabash; 939-2848.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lauren Deutsch.