Ray Russell — Goodbye Svengali
(Cuneiform Rune 223, 2006, CD)
by Sean McFee, Published 2007-03-01
Veteran Brit-jazzer Ray Russell has a lengthy resumé, having played with numerous famous musicians in a sideman role. On Goodbye Svengali, a tribute to the late Gil Evans, we get to hear Russell largely playing his own material, which is a good thing. Russell plays electric and acoustic guitar, and is equally adept at soft ballad passages (“Without a Trace”), angular leads (“Everywhere”), and piercing soundscapes (“Wailing Wall”). Although I do not hear an overly strong Evans influence over each and every track, he is featured on keys on a duet rendition of Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” and a pastiche may not have been the intention anyway. Hardly a homogenous collection of tracks, different aspects of the album appeal in different ways. The title track features a rollicking full-band jazz session, a couple of dirges led by the trumpet of Miles Evans, and a solo guitar spot for Russell. Gary Husband’s drumming, on three tracks, is wonderful, virtuoso, swinging. While all the styles presented here are effective, I think what I enjoy most is Russell’s slower, bluesy side. Whether in the sad beauty of “So Far Away,” the pain articulated by “Wailing Wall,” or the celebration of jazz itself that is the title track, this seems every bit a heartfelt tribute and would impress those interested in jazz guitar.
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