ARTHUR RUSSELL’S INSTRUMENTALSThe Kazimier 11/8/15
A cohort weaned on the abundant fruits of Arthur Russell’s posthumous veneration turn out in force to see PETER GORDON et al perform the late cellist’s instrumental odyssey. The celebration of Russell’s tragically short life has arrived as often as a birthday since the release of documentary film Wild Combination. Only last year Red Hot paid their homage with a star-studded covers album. This year, Audika Records released Corn, a reissue that boasts unheard recordings from 1982-83. The almost annual testimonial to Arthur Russell’s work has exposed his undeniably rich and eclectic catalogue to a new generation of fans who are keen to partake in the fullness of his archive. Russell’s unorthodox approach to composition, inspired by disco and the pedagogues of contemporary classicism, was demonstrably ahead of its time. Albums like World Of Echo and Tower Of Meaning continue to resonate with listeners some two decades after Russell’s untimely demise.
Fortunately, Peter Gordon’s ensemble faithfully fulfils the demand accrued by Russell’s escalating notoriety from beyond the grave. Gordon and Russell met in New York City in 1975. After bonding over a shared love of pop music and instrumental arrangement, the pair quickly became collaborators in The Flying Hearts and The Love Of Life Orchestra. Gordon worked closely with Russell on his Instrumentals masterpiece; a nine-piece extended movement inspired by the nature photography of Yuko Nonomura. Twenty years on, Gordon revived Instrumentals at a sold-out performance at renowned New York arts and music venue The Kitchen. Tonight’s ensemble consists of the same line-up of musicians, as well as the welcome addition of Ned Sublette (a noteworthy name from Russell’s Sleeping Bag Records imprint).
Russell’s frequent collaborators Ernie Brooks (Bass) and Bill Ruyle (Drums/Vibraphone) provide the trademark motorik-meets-disco groove, which accommodates a pair of Peters – Gordon (Sax) and Zummo (Trombone) – who in turn make their signature counter-melodic interjections between gradually elevating sections. Rhys Chatham (Flute) reads diligently from the score, while Gavin Russom (Synths) and Max Gordon (Keys/Trumpet) provide flurries of harmonic content. The performance is authentic, fluid and resoundingly joyous. Although large swathes of the piece remain true to the original, Gordon’s glorious funk and soul-tinged melisma are the dominant allele within the genus. Apparently, the original Instrumentals score is predominantly notated in Gordon’s handwriting; this becomes salient as the night unfolds. Gordon’s authority over the proceedings is apparent. Vigorously, he conducts between movements and instructs between changes. It’s perhaps not until Peter Zummo’s sombre and muted solo, referencing his work on the beloved Tower Of Meaning, that the audience are able to recalibrate their focus on the ensemble as a whole. As the night departs with unravelling splendour, the opaquely hedonistic Is It All Over My Face? provides ample encore-stimulation for The Kazimier to erupt into euphoric climax. Rhys Chatham claps with hearty aplomb and Gavin Russom defies his vocal register with the familiar refrain.