Founded in the late 1970s and led by free-jazz multi-instrumentalist Hal Russell until his death in 1992, the NRG Ensemble is a link between the genre’s birth in the late 1950s and its 1990s resurgence. The group also wrote a number of accessible passages, and it brought together younger luminaries in the form of saxophonists Ken Vandermark and Mars Williams, bassists Kent Kessler and Brian Sandstrom, and drummer Steve Hunt.
Under the guidance of Williams, the group continued after Russell’s death, although Vandermark stepped in for Williams during an early ’90s absence. Williams later rejoined the group, and Vandermark, citing differing musical interests, left in 1998. NRG played a few shows without Vandermark in 1998 and ’99, but has largely remained dormant since. However, the group is sporadically active, and in late October of 2008 NRG Ensemble payed reverence to Russell (with local free-jazz regular Dave Rempis taking the place of Vandermark) at Hideout.
The group released three albums with its ’90s incarnation, one each through Quinnah, Delmark and Atavistic. Russell also had a pair of his own releases as the Hal Russell NRG Ensemble on ECM that were highly lauded, notably The Finnish/Swiss Tour. NRG’s last release, Bejazzo Gets a Facelift, was a tight, wild, high-octane ride that incorporated the group’s first recorded free improvisations (four of them, in fact).