Ray Russell is one of our great unsung guitar heroes.
Russell is a fearsomely gifted player who relies on taste rather than speed, even when teamed up with the likes of fusion legends Anthony Jackson and Simon Phillips. Highlights include the slow burn of the opening “Everywhere”, plus a quietly gutsy rendering of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” from Russell in duet with Evans. That this was Gil’s last recorded appearance gives the piece a particular emotional kick. Recommended.
The CD’s sound is first-rate as well. Ray Russell is well known to musicians, but not as familiar to the public at large, which is missing some really innovative sounds. Goodbye Svengali isn’t easy-listening music by any stretch. It’s challenging, but not suffocating in its presentation. Rather, it mists around you and is punctuated with flashes of Russell’s electric-guitar lightning.
A timeless album that everybody – guitarists in particular – should analyze carefully, containing gorgeous melodies and most excellent fretwork in the middle of a triangle whose corners are occupied by Jeff Beck, Phil Miller and Yo’ Miles! Touching extremes.
Since Ray Russell has spent plenty of the past three decades quietly composing award-winning TV soundtracks and shaping his expressive guitar sound to the whims of stars (Dionne Warwick, Art Garfunkel, Van Morrison and many others), it’s perhaps not surprising he lets his hair down when he is the main attraction. Playing two rare solo gigs in the shoebox-sized basement of the Pizza Express Jazz Club, Russell brought a rhythm section powerful enough to have Olympic stadium audiences asking for earplugs. But eventually the music calmed down enough for this unusual artist’s identity – a fusion of raw R&B, Coltrane-era free jazz and seductive lyricism – to infiltrate the room.
Russell was joined by regulars – bass-guitar star Mo Foster and drummer Gary Husband – plus guest keyboardist Jim Watson and trumpeter Rupert Cobb. The latter’s tightly muted phrasing accompanied the first spacious passages. This followed a turmoil of country-lilting funk, interspersed with wailing guitar improv, driven by Husband’s lashing backbeat. Foster’s elegant bass walk then underpinned an impressionistic organ passage, before a taut guitar hook led steadily to another blaze of high-register aerobatics.
Russell’s remarkable tonal palette came into its own in a more tranquil sequence, with tremulous bottleneck effects blending delicately with the trumpet. Then a more jangly, dulcimer-like guitar sound floated on Husband’s subtle cymbal-playing and judicious fills in a fine ballad. Here, Russell’s mix of haunting long tones and impulsive turns occasionally recalled the work of that enigmatic guitar master Roy Buchanan.