Michael Staron
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Michael Staron

Chicago, Illinois, United States | Established. Jan 01, 1971 | INDIE

Chicago, Illinois, United States | INDIE
Established on Jan, 1971
Solo Jazz Avant-garde




"Albert's Lullaby"

Hal Russell/Michael Staron/Sparrow/Rick Shandling
Albert’s Lullaby

Composed and arranged free jazz must be the most difficult thing to achieve because the writer/arranger wants the music to sound spontaneous, but he also wants to relay a concise theme in the work. Perhaps an arrangement is a mere, “lead voice exaggerates a written melody while rhythm section plays anything they want.” but I think Albert’s Lullaby is more than that. When I was a child, my grandmother used to watch the Edge of Night soap opera religiously, and so I knew the theme by heart. When Russell's sax started playing the melody on his sax, I knew that this was not just a typical group of free players. They were heading into uncharted waters but bringing along thematic paddles with which to steer.

What’s missing on this disc, for me, is moments of smoother downtime. The existing sparse moments might be too noodly and staccato for me. Hal Russell died in 1992, so these are older recordings from “lost” studio sessions, but the music is fresh and superbly recorded. Truly, the only way to appreciate this album fully is to listen to it closely with headphones. Multi-instrumentalist Russell has quite a following, and I believe his NRG ensemble continues to this day without him. I do enjoy his emotion, even if I do prefer the wider emotional range of Elton Dean or Paul Dunmall. Michael Staron’s bass playing is a different story altogether. His Bowing is some of the best I’ve ever heard. He is a true rival of Mike Formanek, Dave Holland and Paul Rogers.

Beyond Coltrane is Copyrighted 2000 By Fred Barrett

- Fred Barrett - Beyond Coltrane

"Alberts Lullaby"

Hal Russell
Albert’s Lullaby
Southport SSD 0077 (73:47)
Legendary Chicago free-jazz instrumentalist Hal Russell, who died in 1992, appears on these sessions, mostly cut in 1991, with bassist Michael Staron, drummer Rick Shandling and pianist Bradley Parker-Sparrow. The selections include a couple of Albert Ayler tunes, “Vibrations” and “Ghosts,” adaptations of “Brahms Lullaby,” here called “Albert’s Lullaby” the Gregorian chants “Kyrie and Agnus Dei,” and an adaptation of “The Edge of Night” soap-opera theme. There are also three Russell/Staron/Sparrow “spontaneous improvisation(s),” including the twenty-five minute “Who There?” and the fifteen-minute “Aural,” both which are varied in Mood.
Russell appears on trumpet, and tenor and soprano sax. Ayler had a big impact on his work, which is uninhibited, passionate and irreverently humorous. “Ghosts” contains Staron’s unaccompanied arco and pizzicato work, on which he employs electronic and extended techniques. He’s a versatile, forward looking and accomplished performer. Staron also contributed his electronic composition “W” which was recorded in 1979.
Sparrow impresses as well; he takes a lot of chances, demonstrating that he can not only pound the piano but also play lyrically. He also interacts intelligently with the other performers.

Harvey Pekar
- Harvey Pekar - JazzTimes

"Albert's Lullaby"

Making the Scene at the Southport music festival
John MacCalkies

Southport's 7th annual festival takes place June 19-24 at various venues. The release party for this CD will be at Pop's for Champagne, June 21, and features Rich Fudoli. The indefatigable label is wracking up an extensive roster of rising and established local artists, but is also exhuming bypassed projects. "Albert's Lullaby" is a welcome case in point, a beautifully assembled package, from the classic Lauren Deutsch shot of quixotic multi-instrumentalist Russell gracing the cover, to amusing liner notes by John Litweiler. Despite the bashful dedication from Sparrow "to the dreams that tape will never capture," there is much quintessential Russell here, on saxophone and trumpet, plus plenty of bassist/producer Staron, who plays solo on Albert Ayler's "Ghosts" and his own "W." Staron's alter-ego as pit orchestra/jobbing musician no doubt obtusely endeared him to Russell, who paid dues as a big band drummer before morphing into an avant gardist. Ayler's spirit is conjured on "Vibrations" and he is 'quoted' by Russell on "Who's There?," an epic piece steered by Sparrow's piano. (John MacCalkies)
- John MacCalkies - NewCity Chicago

"Albert's Lullaby"

Reviews that mention Michael Staron
Albert's Lullaby
(Southport S-SSD 0077)

This may the oddest session of Chicago "out" godfather Hal Russell's oddball career. Russell (1926-1992), was a former swing drummer who reinvented himself as a trumpeter/saxophonist in his forties and who almost single-handedly waved the freak flag in Chicago's North Side until what could be called the Ken) Vandermark Generation came of age in the 1990s.

Along the way, Russell recorded a series of critically-praised sessions with various editions of his NRG Ensemble, which served as the training ground for future "outsters" like bassist Kent Kessler and saxophonist Mars Williams.

But this outstanding CD is different. It features two different trios, anchored by bassist Michael Staron, who was the moving force behind the groups. Here Russell unleashes his horns on such disparate material as an adapted Georgian chant "Kyrie and Angus Dei", the theme song for the soap opera "Edge of Night", and Brahms' lullaby renamed and reconfigured as "Albert's Lullaby" in honor of Albert Ayler.

It's on these pieces and Ayler's "Vibrations" that Rusell fares best and it's no surprise, he once stated that he listened to old Ayler records at home for pleasure. On those tracks he's matched in intensity by Staron solid bass playing and drummer Shandling's percussive color. Even the Gregorian chant -- where Russell becomes Don Ayler instead of Albert -- is memorable, since the bassist tailored the tune for Russell's breathy, rudimentary technique.

Other tracks, labeled spontaneous improvisations, don't fare as well despite rolling, cushioning chords from Sparrow and a rock-solid bass bottom. Frankly, Rusell, who usually played concise compositions surrounded by multi-instrumental NRG sidefolk, sounds a bit uncomfortable improvising at this great length and having to be both Ayler brothers at the same time. Too often he falls back on his pet licks.

The one complete misstep here is "W", a Staron-composed piece of electronica played on the modular-Moog. With its lack of adhesion to the other tracks, it appears to be shoehorned into the mix because of the bassist's strong work elsewhere.

Still when all is said and done, there is more to praise than bury in ALBERT'S LULLABY. Musically it showcases a bassist rarely heard in this context and historically it offers a rare look at iconoclastic Rusell in a very small band setting.

They just don't make characters like him any more.

--Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Edge of Night 2. Albert's Lullaby 3. Vibrations 4. Kyrie and Angus Dei 5. Who's There? 6. Ghosts? 7. Aural 8. "W" 9. To Groove

Personnel: Hal Russell (tenor saxophone, trumpet); Sparrow (piano) [tracks 5, 7, 9]; Mike Staron (bass); Rick Shandling (drums) [tracks 1 - 4]

June 17, 2000

- Ken Waxman - Jazz Word / Jazz Weekly

"Albert's Lullaby"

Review by Michael G. Nastos
This recording is being depicted as the missing link in Russell's discography, posthumously released from sessions done with bassist Michael Staron apart from the NRG Ensemble. Russell's tenor sax or trumpet work is quite beholden to the stance of Ornette Coleman, and Albert Ayler's influence is clear and present. Rick Shandling drums on four of the nine tracks, and Bradley Parker-Sparrow plays piano on another three. Staron's major role in these collective improvisations cannot be overlooked, he is an equal partner firing up Russell's highly spontaneous notions. At his most gargantuan from a compositional standpoint, "Who's There?" over 25+ minutes allows Russell, Staron and Sparrow to weave in and out of motifs and themes. Door knocking leads to insistent bass and fleeting piano chords inspiring Russell's trumpet and tenor discourses. Sparrow and Staron get to stretch out briefly as Russell's more hyper-melodic side comes out, Sparrow's cascading pianistics, Russell quoting Ornette's "Dancing In Your Head," and a near polka bass buoys the leader before a peaceful piano segment and bass solo end this piece. "Aural" over near 15 minutes has Russell's soft, spoken trumpet, more demonstrative, then in marching or dancing patterns. The shorter pieces include the quasi-free bop workout with bass and drums "Edge Of Night," no time squawking, singing sax and bass on the title cut, and Ayler's "Vibrations" sporting interactive call & response between drums and sax. "Kyrie & Agnus Dei" has Russell's bleating trumpet, inquisitive at times, at others probing, while the minute plus "To Groove" with Staron & Sparrow starts with percussion sounds, a two note bass beat and a development far too brief. Staron goes solo on a bass interpetation of Ayler's "Ghosts" with aviatory echoes at the end. He also presents a live modular Moog synthesizer composition "W" starting with whooshing sounds, then a rhythmic 5/4 static short, space oscillations, Martian modulations sparse and dense, then a whoosh landing. Russell's staunch individualism in creative improvised music was far too infrequently documented, so for fans this will prove an invaluable piece of the big puzzle.

- Michael G. Nastos - AMG

"Albert's Lullaby"

Albert's Lullaby
Hal Russell | Southport Records
By Glenn Astarita

Multi-instrumentalist and beloved free-jazz pioneer Hal Russell passed away in 1991 as the newly released Albert’s Lullaby represents one of Russell’s final recordings. Russell and his “NRG Ensemble” were infamous for crafting abstract, gleefully rambunctious avant-garde jazz compositions and improvisations as Russell also helped establish paradigms for many of our younger and present day modern or – new – jazz stylists. With Albert’s Lullaby (referencing Albert Ayler), Russell along with bassist and producer Mike Staron, drummer Rick Shandling and pianist, “Sparrow” (who appears on selected tracks) effortlessly, intuitively and somewhat aggressively whirl through a series of combination compositions/improvisations. The music portrayed here, jubilantly illustrates Russell’s creative if not wild and effulgent spark as a trumpeter-saxophonist and more importantly provides insight into the late artist’s freewheeling emotional outpourings in accordance with his clear-sighted sensibilities as a group leader and visionary.

The proceedings commence with Russell’s spin on the theme from the popular soap opera “Edge of Night”. Here, Russell performs on tenor sax while exhibiting some sort of diabolical Albert Ayler-ish sense of urgency as bassist Michael Staron constructs an arco-bridge amid drummer Rick Shandling’s sweeping patterns. Emotionally charged choruses continue on the late Albert Ayler’s composition titled, “Vibrations” as the musicians perform with an earthy or organic disposition. Pianist, Sparrow joins the band for the 25-minute “spontaneous improvisation”, “Who’s There” as Russell toggles between trumpet and saxophones. On this piece which at times does seem – composed – or pre-planned, the musicians pursue gradually evolving themes as Sparrow injects faint doses of melody while Russell serves as the catalyst whether working the background or launching into heated solo excursions. (Yet Russell’s sense of humor prevails as he quotes Ornette Coleman’s “Dancing In Your Head” which comes at you from left field).. Needless to state, we are provided with gobs of imagery as the musicians work from within dark corners and wide open vistas. Basically, there is quite a bit going on under the covers and somehow it all alludes to a sound sense of reason. - Throughout these 9 pieces, other than “W” which is a 1979 recording of bassist Michael Staron performing on a modulator Moog Synthesizer, the musicians engage sharp fragmented themes and choruses as Russell frequently provides brief jagged accents in support of the other soloists. Occasionally, Russell implies some elevated or perhaps exaggerated notion of what might have occurred if the music was being rendered by mainstream jazz musicians as this attribute in particular sheds some additional light on the late musician’s quick-wit and fertile imaginative powers.

Albert’s Lullaby is a remarkable portraiture of an artist who most assuredly would be blazing new musical trails if not for his untimely death. No, this isn’t material exhumed from the bowels of some record company’s basement, yet it is a snapshot of a man who opened up new doors during his lifetime as we sincerely hope that Russell’s music will continue to thrive and inspire those who wish to embark on similar courses. Strongly recommended.

* * * * * (out of * * * * *)

Visit the “Southport” website at: www.chicagosound.com
Style: Modern Jazz

Privacy Policy | Dedicated Servers All material copyright © 2009 All About Jazz and/or contributing writers/visual artists. All rights reserved.
- Glenn Astarita - All About Jazz

"Albert's Lullaby"

Albert's Lullaby
Hal Russell
(Southport – 2000)
by John Barrett

Hal Russell dates from the first era of Chicago avant-garde, inspired many from the second wave (Ken Vandemark, etc.) and he always kept exploring, right up to his death. In 1991 his bassist booked a studio, and they ran wild: bass and drums crash hard, while Hal moves all directions at once. "Edge of Night" has a tenor that goes berserk; he keeps to the melody (it’s a soap opera theme) for maybe ten seconds. Hal twiddles fast, Michael Staron fiddles with fury; this sounds a lot like Charles Gayle.

The title tune is Brahms’ Lullaby – sort of. Staron plays the theme in abstract, over and over; Russell flits around, from rusty honks to parodied vibrato. A squall commences, Rick Shandling goes big on vymbals – Staron retains his calm. "Kyrie" is a segment of Catholic liturgy, begun with solemn bells. Staron bows the theme, while a gravel-tone trumpet interjects. Intensity bubbles: Hal grabs a mute, Michael makes a fast twitter, and convention departs – as if it were ever here. Have mercy.

In five months Hal was back in the studio, this time at behest of Bradley Parker-Sparrow, partner in the facility. Sparrow’s at the piano for "Who’s There?", batting the strings directly while the trumpet blasts louder than ever. Never an ace at the instrument, Hal does have a firmer tone this time, and he growls with distinction. Staron slaps the bass good, Sparrow hammers the low keys, then makes like Cecil Taylor. Now the tenor comes barking, as an austere rhythm forms – an ordered type of chaos.

"Aural" moves slower, as classical piano inspires Hal’s best trumpet. Big shouts, then atmospheric echoes, and a cataclysmic finish – worth hearing, though on the long side. Two Staron solo efforts slow the pace down (the best is a vivid take on Ayler’s "Ghosts") and "To Groove" is a minute of soprano frenzy, wailed amid a sea of rattles. The disc is over, and no boundaries are left standing; Hal Russell was a fighter to the end.


- John Barrett - Jazz USA

"Albert's Lullaby"

Hal Russell, Michael Staron, Sparrow, and Rick Shandling
Albert’s Lullaby (Southport)
review by Micah Holmquist

Albert’s Lullaby contains some of the last recordings of Hal Russell before his untimely passing in 1992. Southport is promoting the disc as such and while this might be a good marketing strategy, it is actually bassist Michael Staron who anchors the material. Four of the nine cuts feature Russell and Staron playing with drummer Rick Shandling. Three tracks have pianist Sparrow accompanying Russell and Staron. Another is an electronic music composition from Staron who also delivers a solo bass reading of the Albert Ayler composition "Ghosts." The foray in electronic music suffers if only because it is out of place in these surroundings but the reading of "Ghosts" is wonderful. Staron uses a wide variety of tones to create a theatric and appropriately spooking feel.

The influence of Ayler shows up in other places as well. As you may have guessed by now, Ayler is the namesake of the title cut and Russell delivers some impassioned blowing on it. Staron composed this piece and references both Ayler’s sound and his method by making it an adaptation of Johoannes Brahms' Lullaby. On both this cut and a cover of another Ayler tune, "Vibrations," Shandling puts in some notable work on the skins. His use of snare drum rolls as part of his overall package of moving the music forward is especially impressive.

This is more than homage, however. One of the additional cuts with Shandling has the trio mocking show tunes while the other, ""Kyrie and Agnus Dei," is based on Gregorian chants. (It is worth nothing that these recordings happened in 1991, roughly three years ahead of the period when Gregorian chants became chic.) Russell plays trumpet on the latter and listeners will note that he is less sure of himself in this environment. The quick wit and virtuosity that he displays with a saxophone gives way to a drawl on the trumpet. Still Russell squeezes unmistakable emotions out of his horn.

Finally there are three spontaneous improvisations with Russell, Staron, and Sparrow. Fans of Matthew Shipp will recognize many of the elements of Sparrow’s playing. He can create long and tense streams that are rewarding when focused on and beautiful when heard as embellishing other musicians. Staron adds a funk influence to the music and even does some slap bass work early on in the over 25 minute long "Who’s There?" "Aural" is shorter —although by no means short as it comes in at 14 minutes and 47 seconds- and quieter but a more intense piece. Staron’s melodically odd bass playing is the real highlight here. The disc ends with the less than 90 second long "To Groove" which lives up to the title but doesn’t give listeners enough to chew on.

Despite the weak closer and the other misstep into electronic music, there is still plenty to like on Albert’s Lullaby. Those who like good bass playing in the creative improvised category should especially consider picking this up.

Tracks: Edge of Night (6:01)/Albert’s Lullaby (3:06)/Vibrations (5:29)/Kyrie and Agnus Dei (6:51)/Who’s There (25:19)/Ghosts (3:53)/Aural (14:47)/ "W" (6:58)/To Groove (1:17)

Personal: Hal Russell (saxophone, trumpet)/Michael Staron (bass, modular Moog synthesizer, Teac 4-track)/Sparrow (piano)/Rick Shandling (drums)

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- Micah Holmquist - Jazz Review

"Bill McFarland and the Chicago Horns"

Chicago Horns Burst In On Green Mill and Take Over
Article by Chicago Tribune Arts Critic:
Howard Reich:

It's a wonder the fixtures are still attached to the ceiling at the Green Mill Jazz Club after Saturday night's show. Though Bill McFarland and The Chicago Horns were making their debut at the club, they played as if they owned the joint. And it wasn't just the group's penchant for fortissimo blasts of sound that gave this performance its air of authority. This band's taut rhythms, its front line's muscular quality and its rhythm sections's aggressiveness made The Chicago Horns sound more like a small jazz symphony than the hard-hitting sextet it is. Though the band has been playing around Chicago for the past couple of years, its front line dates back much further, with trombonist McFarland, tenor saxophonist Hank Ford and trumpeter Kenny Anderson having virtually grown up together musically. The years they've spent in one another's company have paid off. When these three horns are playing unison lines, the force of their sound is matched only by their finesse: They phrase, shade and taper lines almost as if a single player were at work. The most jolting performance of Saturday night's show came in a relatively new number that may yet emerge as the band's signature piece: "Harold The Great," a McFarland original. "Harold" refers to the late Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, to whom the piece is dedicated. But this work is much more than a pious homage to a fallen hero. Rather, its volatile rhythms and raging energy recall the fire and fury that made, Washington unique as an orator and leader. More important, in the work's reliance on African horn calls and on themes more reminiscent of African chant than Western melody, the composition effectively links Washington to black leaders of African antiquity. To hear McFarland improvising vigorously on trombone while Ford's tenor and Anderson's trumpet blared forth with glorious horn calls was to understand the communicative power of this band and this composition. The exultant melody lines, wide-open textures, peak volumes and unrepentant rhythmic drive inspired generous ovations from the large crowd. Elsewhere in the show, the band took Miles Davis' "All Blues" at an unusually fast clip, turned up the intensity a few degrees more on John Coltrane's "Impressions" and basked in the deepest shades of blue in "Hank's Theme," a Ford original. Among the solo passages, Anderson's trumpet work proved particularly effective, especially in his tender, muted reading of "Round Midnight"; here's the rare trumpeter with the technique to explore the legacy of Dizzy Gillespie, who's clearly Anderson's prime inspiration. The band is backed by Osamu Sam Soda's great waves of sound on piano, Mike Staron's feverish bow work on bass and Rick Vitek's unflagging energy on drums.

By: Howard Reich; Chicago Tribune.
- Howard Reich - Chicago Tribune

"Bill McFarland and the Chicago Horns"

Chicago Tribune
Sunday, August 27, 1995
Arts Section:
Recordings Review by Chicago Tribune Critic:
Howard Reich

The incendiary first track alone makes this recording required listening. Written by Chicagoan Bill McFarland, "Harold The Great" has become an anthem for The Chicago Horns and a popular repertory piece among a variety of Chicago bands. With its incantatory backbeats, anthem-like main theme and combustive brass variations, the piece epitomizes everything that is thrilling about McFarlands's Chicago Horns. The rest of the album unfolds in similarly dramatic fashion, with an irrepressible rhythmic drive in "Hip Hop Swing," profoundly melancholy lines in "Maho's Dream I" and gripping rhythmic grooves in "Mild Wind." Add to that the jubilant harmonies and Latin cross-rhythms of "Mardi Gras" and the heaven-storming brass lines in the title track and you have one of the most viscerally exciting Chicago jazz bands to come along in years.
By: Howard Reich; Chicago Tribune.
- Howard Reich - Chicago Tribune


Albert's Lullaby - Southport S- SSD - 0077
Watchful Eyes - Norats Music - UPC - 859707058018
Fire Horns Moonlight Records MLR1000-2
Fire Horns Totally Live Sopro Music DVD
Hal: An Oral history by Chris Shrundz DVD
Cirrus Falcon - Serendipity - copyright 1984 Cirrus Falcon
Being Alive Alexandra Billings Southport - S-SSD-0080
Rock Originals Michael Staron - UPC - 859700964583
Novelties - Michael Staron - UPC - 859701323037
Boundless Rob Ryndak Southport - S-SSD-0050
My Kind of Town Brian Patti Orch. www.brianpatti.com
Michael Thorn Desire MichaelThornMusic.com
Michael Thorn Midnight Serenade MichaelThornMusic.com
Michael Thorn Trio Moment to Moment - MichaelThornMusic.com
Thorn, Staron, Jennings Shades of Blue - MichaelThornMusic.com
Coyle + Staron Acoustic Duo 
The October Suite 
Ambiguous End - Skunky's Hideout 
Dave Sheldon Trio with Beth Kuhn - Drift



Over a million original experimental music video views on Facebook. 
#1 Jazz Artist Chicago - Reverbnation - over 82 weeks.

Musicals: National Tours - Evita – Schubert Theater Organization / Robert Stigwood Productions
National Touring Companies Locally: A Chorus Line, Joseph w/Donnie Osmond, Rent
International Touring Companies Locally: A Chorus Line

Professional Chicago-area Productions: Dream Girls, Hot Mikado, West Side Story,
A Chorus Line, They’re Playing Our Song, Joseph, The Boys From Syracuse, Annie, Grand Hotel, The Sound of Music, Once on This Island, Pacific Overtures, Company, A Funny Thing Happen on the Way to the Forum, Sweet and Hot, Forever Plaid

Jazz: Four Dimensions Ensemble, Mike Staron Duo, Bobby Enriquez, Bill McFarland and The Chicago Horns, Hal Russell, NRG, Rich Corpolongo, Les Demerle, The NRG Three, Beau Barry Trio, Mike Pagan Trio, Guy Fricano Sextet, Michael Thorn Group, Louis Hall, Howard Baker, Mike Finnerty, Marshall Vente, Jose Valdes Trio, Tim Tobias Duo, Jazz Perspectives

Comedians/Singers/Acts: Sid Caesar, Red Skelton, Eddy Arnold, Bob Newhart, Roger Williams, The Four Lads, Al Martino, The Pied Pipers, Jerry Vale, The Marvelettes, The Shangri-Las, Dick Contino, Vic Damone, Bill Acosta, The Stars of Lawrence Welk, Valentino Delorenzo, Stardust, Ann Jillian, Pudgy, Denise Tomasello, Cirrus Falcon, The Harmonicats, Steve March, The Lennon Sisters, Greta Pope, Joey Gian, Tony Ocean, Sam Gibson, Alexandra Billings,  Jimmy Damon, The Len Show, The Swing Sisters

Revues: Tan and Sassy, Yabba Dabba Do, Heartstrings, Grape Fruit Moon, Naked, Harry Chapin Lies and Legends, A Salute to Sondheim, The World Goes Round, Jerry’s Girls, Holiday Heat Wave, Hey There Good Times, 

Latin Tropical: Los Siglos, Los Profetas, Los Sabinales, Jimmy Santi

Blues: The Diamond Jim Greene Trio

Liturgical: Trinity Presbyterian Church (2006), Glen Ellyn Bible Church (2001-2002),

"He's a versatile, forward looking and accomplished performer."
Jazz Times

"His bowing is some of the best I ever heard. He is a true rival of Mike Formanek, Dave Holland, and Paul Rogers."
Beyond Coltrane

"Mike to me has a lot of technique and he's perfect for playing in a trio because he's inspirational, he will follow my chords, whatever melody I play he will follow, he will change key with me; which is what I need."
Hal Russell (Hal An Oral History)