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Ray Russell: Goodbye Svengali

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Ray Russell is an eclectic. From rock to free jazz, fusion and pop, the guitarist has done it all. His newest effort, Goodbye Svengali, a tribute to a like-minded spirit (Gil Evans), highlights Russell's eclecticism. Nearly all of the aforementioned ground is covered, and Russell is in rare form throughout. Structuring this recording as a tribute album, Russell does not use a single band, instead working with a revolving door of musicians who fit the bill for each tune. While the other players acquit themselves well, Russell is clearly the focal point of the disc.

"Everywhere starts things off in a fusion vein. It has the groove of early Miles fusion, a la In A Silent Way. Russell's tone is more piercing than that of his contemporary, John McLaughlin, who played on those early electric Miles records, but the similarities are evident. Robin Aspland's Fender Rhodes is quite similar to Chick Corea's as well.

"Goodbye Svengali pays tribute to Miles in an indirect way, recalling the Spanish moods that Evans used for Miles on Sketches of Spain. The acronym Svengali was Gil Evans' pseudonym, and Russell brings in Evans' son Miles to lay on a sumptuous trumpet part. Of all the tunes on the record, this is the most overtly bebop-oriented, beginning with an almost orchestral theme and then devolving into solo space for Russell and Evans. It's a brilliant tribute to Evans the mastermind.

During his later years, Evans (sometimes in collaboration with Russell) experimented with rock music, especially admiring Jimi Hendrix. Russell chooses two rockish pieces here, the spacey "So Far Away and the groovy "Now Here's A Thing. The former hearkens back to early Pink Floyd, invoking memories of Meddle, while the latter references Spectrum, a Billy Cobham fusion record. "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat is also an apt selection, featuring Gil Evans himself on Fender Rhodes in a duet with Russell. The two reinterpret the Mingus standard beautifully.

Goodbye Svengali does what the best tribute records do. In invoking not only the music but also the soul of an admired musician, it brings out the best in the artist paying tribute. And Russell here is energetic, thoughtful, and most of all, eclectic.

Track Listing: Everywhere; Without a Trace; Goodbye Svengali; Goodbye Pork Pie Hat; Wailing Wall; Prayer to the Sun/The Fashion Police; So Far Away; Now Herre's a Thing; Afterglow; Blaize.

Personnel: Ray Russell: electric guitar, EBow, acoustic guitar, 7-string guitar, keyboards, classical guitar, Roland guitar synthesizer; Robin Aspland: Fender Rhodes, Hammond B3 organ (1,8); Amy Baldwin: double bass (1,3,8); Gil Evans: keyboards (4); Miles Evans: trumpet (3); Mo Foster: bass guitar (6); Gary Husband: drums (3,6), keyboards (6, 9); Tony Hymas: keyboards (10); Anthony Jackson: contrabass (10); Phil Peskett: keyboards (2); Simon Phllips: drums (10); Ralph Salmins: drums (1,8).

Title: Goodbye Svengali | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Cuneiform Records

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