English guitarist/composer Ray Russell has flown under the radar for most of his 45-year career, dividing his energies between his own projects, sessions for some of the biggest names in popular music and composing award-winning music for television and film. Russell's wide-ranging musical interests have meant that his own recordings have sometimes been separated by long gaps, and this is probably the main reason why he isn't better known. Seven years after Goodbye Svengali
, Russell's tribute to composer Gil Evans
, he returns with an energetic jazz-rock/fusion effort, which at its best draws favorable comparison to fellow English guitarist John McLaughlin
Like McLaughlin, Russell began as a London session player in the 1960s and although McLaughlin has always enjoyed a higher profile, Russell deserves his place in the pantheon of innovative British jazz musicians, following releases like Turn Circle
(CBS Realm, 1968) and Dragon Hill
(CBS Realm, 1969). And there's certain symmetry in the fact that all these years later the two guitarists are stable mates at Abstract Logix, the label which has done so much to relaunch contemporary jazz-fusion, particularly of the electric guitar-driven variety.
Joined by familiar cohorts drummer Gary Husband
, bassists Mo Foster, Jimmy Johnson
and Anthony Jackson
in a series of shifting line-ups, the one constant here is Russell's incendiary and soulful
playing, which may yet win him a whole new generation of jazz-rock/fusion fans. Russell gave a star turn on Husband's Dirty & Beautiful Volume 2
(Abstract Logix, 2012) and the drummer returns the favor with a typically bustling performanceincluding a solo featureon "The Island," whose shifting soundscapes from modern prog rock and blues-based funk jam to searing jazz-rock encapsulates not only Russell's eclecticism, but his song writing nous which enables him to shift gears so effortlessly.
"Shards of Providence," a sophisticated rocker, has fewer twists and turns, with Russell and Jimmy Watson
on Fender Rhodes both stretching out. Watson's Rhodes features again on "Way Back Now," a jazz-rocker in the Frank Zappa
tradition, with Rupert Cobb's muted trumpet bringing a more meditative hue to the mix. Whatever the tempo, whether on the slow-burning "Slow Down," the delightful duo ballad with Watson, "Suddenly they are Gone," or on the hard rocking "Rubber Chicken Dinner," Russell is in the form of his life and fans of guitarists McLaughlin, Jeff Beck
and Jimmy Herring
will surely find much to admire.
"Odd Way Out" veers between ambient new-age mode and the soaring space-rock of the Ozric Tentacles
, with Cobb and Russell both employing effects to create great, enveloping soundscapes. "Cab in the Rain," a solo piece that layers sustained electric notes and delicate acoustic arpeggios, supplies a lyrical coda to a driving set.
Russell's virtuosityfierce and tender in turnis the meat on the bones of rhythmically grooving tunes that sink their hooks from the get go. A fine supporting cast contributes stellar individual performances in what may rank as one of the guitarist's best outings in his long and varied career. With this kind of fire in Russell's belly, a quick follow-up recording or two would be well in order.
The Island; Shards of Providence; Way back Now; Slow Day; Suddenly they are gone; Rubber Chicken Dinner: Odd Way Out; Cab in the Rain.
Ray Russell: guitars; Gary Husband: drums (1-2,4); George Baldwin: electric bass (1); Jimmy Johnson: electric bass (2,7); Jim Watson: keyboards (1-4, 6-8); Anthony Jackson: Contrabass guitar (3); Ralph Salmins: drums (3,6-7); Rupert Cobb: trumpet (3, 7); Mo Foster: electric bass (4,6); 'Kaskel': additional soundscape (7).