Arthur Russell - Instrumentals 2xLP
In just the last decade – thanks to the efforts of Audika Records – Arthur Russell has assumed a rightful place as one of the foremost composers and producers of his generation, a critical enshrinement that's largely obliterated the tragic obscurity with which his music long contended. "Instrumentals" collects work that makes the best case for Russell's preeminence, or at least one facet of it.
Begun in 1974, Russell's "Instrumentals" project is one of the most unique suites of music ever to come out of downtown New York (or anywhere else). The two volumes presented here originated in what Russell had conceived of as 48 hours of continuous music, drawn down by ensembles that included Jon Gibson (flute, clarinet, saxes), Garrett List (trombone), Ernie Brooks (bass) and Rhys Chatham (flute), among others.
The pieces gathered as Volume 1 are languorous and dreamy, their melodies rooted in the pop architecture of the 30s and 40s but sounding like space rock for the downtown Manhattan set. For Volume 2, Russell held to similar compositional principles but removed all percussion; as he told David Toop in the 1980s, "in outer space you can't take your drums. You take your mind." Audika has also included two of Russell's most adventurous pieces, "Reach One" and "Sketch For 'Face Of Helen.'"
Arthur Russell wrote that "Instrumentals" was his idea of "the popular radio sound of the future" – and we can imagine these pieces as intermittent broadcasts from an alternate timeline, where melody is measured in microtones and such utterly gorgeous music has been known to stop clocks.