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Ray Russell: Playing with Time

Ray Russell: Playing with Time
Ian Patterson By

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Each time guitarist/composer Ray Russell releases a new album, it feels like a comeback. Now, More than Ever, Russell's debut on the Abstract Logix label, comes seven years after Goodbye Svengali (Cuneiform Records, 2006), his heartfelt tribute to composer Gil Evans. Although Russell may drop off the radar for periods of time, he's never really far away from our ears. For much of the past 30 years, Russell has composed award-winning music for a plethora of hugely popular TV shows and films as well as countless sessions for the likes of singers Tina Turner, Marvin Gaye and David Bowie.

Russell's Now, More than Ever reunites the guitarist with long-term collaborators and old sparring partners, drummers Gary Husband and Ralph Salmins, bassists Mo Foster, Jimmy Johnson and Anthony Jackson and keyboard player Jimmy Watson, in an energized collective performance that brings together the various strands of Russell's long and varied career.

From his session-musician days in the 1960s, Russell went on to play with keyboardist/singer Georgie Fame and the Blue Notes and singer- songwriter Cat Stevens. But jazz was the music that motivated Russell more than anything, and he made a series of critically acclaimed records in the late 1960s and early 1970s that reflected his free-jazz roots. A brief stint in the British jazz-rock band Nucleus in 1971 was happily recorded and came to light with Live in Bremen (Cuneiform, 2003), one of several Russell releases that have been remastered and reissued in the last decade.

Jazz, R&B, rock, fusion, space-rock and more ambient sounds: Russell has turned his hand to them all since the 1960s, and he successfully fuses all these influences on Now, More than Ever. His guitar playing has never sounded as good, and it's easy to see why he's regarded as a musician's musician. And, with a little bit of luck, we won't have to wait quite so long for his next recording, as according to the man himself the creative juices are flowing.

All About Jazz: Did these songs come together in a burst of creativity, or have they been brewing slowly over a period of time?

Ray Russell: It took about a year and a half to get it finished, to get everybody's availability. It's been a bit of an on-and-off project, but I am pleased with the way it's turned out compositionally, and obviously it was great to have so many of my favorite musicians playing on it.

AAJ: Had you tried any of the music out live before you started recording?

RR: Yeah, a couple. The track "Rubber Chicken Diner" started off with a working title of "Country Boy," which was inspired by the fact that many years ago I used to play with [singer] Chris Farlowe and guitarist Albert Lee. Albert was into country music, and the riff at the start of "Rubber Chicken Diner" is really a nod to what we used to play then. A lot of these compositions have a little bit of history to them, although some I wrote in I wrote in a burst of inspiration [laughs].

AAJ: The music on Now, More than Ever sounds like a melting pot of all the different periods of your career and all your influences: the R&B of Georgie Fame, through the jazz and the rock and the less obvious categories of music that you've explored over the years. How do you see the music on this record?

RR: I do see it as a true fusion of my music. It's always difficult when people want to call you this, that or the other, but I've always played different kinds of music. For me, there's never been a border line between jazz and pop; it's all to do with what you give to the song and what energy you put in. I was brought up in the rock 'n' roll era and then listened to jazz players, so that's always been part of my music. This album does represent some of these different facets, and to get it together compositionally was a test, really. That's why it took a while. For example, "Way Back Now" I rewrote four or five times to get it how I wanted it to sound.

AAJ: The track that opens the record, "The Island," goes through quite a few changes stylistically. Was that a difficult one to bring together?

RR: I wrote that for Gary [Husband] because he's very good at dropping into a half time or a different approach in the same tempo. I developed it from things we do live; I would develop a riff, and he would play over it. When the track goes into the R&B section, it's fun. It's just a way of playing with time.

AAJ: Your son, George Baldwin, plays on this track. Is this the first time you've recorded together?

RR: He's played gigs with me, but we haven't recorded on an album together. It was a thrill. He sounds really good. Gary likes playing with him, so I thought he should really play on this track. It's quite a difficult track in some ways, but I think he nailed it.

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