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New Groove and
The College Concert




My Mother's Eyes

Chelsea Bridge

Red Planet

Pee Wee's Blues

Moten Swing

Round Midnight

Good Bait

Old Folks

Tap Miller

Blue Monk

I Want A Little Girl

Body and Soul

Pee Wee's Blues

Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West

Graduation Blues


Pee Wee Russell (clarinet): Marshall Brown (trombone): Russell George (bass): Ron Lundberg (drums), tracks 1-9, recorded 1962

Pee Wee Russell (clarinet): Red Allen (trumpet and vocals): Steve Kuhn (piano): Charlie Haden (bass): Marty Morell:(drums), tracks 10-15, recorded 1966

Pee Wee Russell (clarinet): Nat Pierce (piano): Milt Hinton (bass): Jo Jones (drums), recorded 1961

SOLAR RECORDS 4569938 [76:50]


It’s certainly surprising that The College Concert LP has never before made it to CD. It teamed Pee Wee Russell with his old Rhythmakers buddy, Red Allen. The event was a Whitney Balliett illustrated lecture, given at MIT in Cambridge, Mass, in October 1966. Six months later the trumpeter was dead. The two-man front line was supported by about the most up-to-date young rhythm section either had worked with – Steve Kuhn, Charlie Haden, and Marty Morell.

Both men latch on to the first word in Blue Monk to unleash a series of superior blues solos whilst it’s Kuhn who tends to catch the ear most in I Want A Little Girl. Body and Soul is almost all Red, with a concert-standard vocal (by his own high standards) and then a fast-moving, middle-range solo which involves tempo doubling, in an accustomed routine. By now Allen was largely abjuring extremes of high and low notes preferring the more comfortable mid-range of the instrument. Age is beginning to tell, but little dims his variety and invention, though he’s no longer quite the cubist improviser of old. Pee Wee’s Blues was a number Russell played seemingly at the drop of a hat. It allowed him free rein to explore his unconscious in a stream-of-consciousness of squawks and squeals - fluting and fluttering like a winged partridge. The least impressive tune in this set is the version of John Lewis’s Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West where Red plays on stock patterns and Russell’s disembodied solo continues Allen’s propensity to ignore the tune and go one’s own merry way. Graduation Blues, a Pee Wee tune, is much better; Allen sings like Jimmy Rushing and Haden’s bass solo is tremendous.

New Groove was taped in November 1962. Here Russell was teamed with trombonist Marshall Brown, bassist Russell George and drummer Ron Lundberg. By all accounts Brown was a taskmaster and insisted on numerous retakes. He’s not a great improviser but oddly he does provide a fine foil for Russell, who must have bridled at having to learn Brown’s backing harmonies. ‘Pee Wee Russell plays John Coltrane’ is one of those joke album covers that turn out to be true. He essays Coltrane’s Red Planet in a defiantly intriguing way – first full of profoundly outlandish directions and then more conventionally. Pee Wee’s Blues was played here too, but there are some fine counter-themes from Brown, which preface a magnificent bass solo from Russell George, a much underrated player, and these elements keep the thing fresh. ‘Round Midnight is disappointingly prosaic but Basie’s swinger Taps Miller redeems things somewhat; good solos all round and fine trades too.

There’s one bonus track from 1961, and that’s Mariooch where Russell is joined by Nat Pierce, Milt Hinton and Jo Jones for a bluesy outing that includes some of his Pee Wee’s Blues shtick.

If you have any interest in Russell and Allen, The College Concert will make mandatory listening, whilst New Groove is sufficiently intriguing in terms of personnel and repertoire to ensure that it keeps the other LP very good company.

Jonathan Woolf

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