Guitarist Ray Russell should be no stranger to followers of jazz-fusion over the last 35 years. Getting his start with such bands as Nucleus, Running Man, Rock Workshop with Alex Harvey, and RMS with Mo Foster and Simon Phillips, Russell's style and career paralleled John McLaughlin to a certain extent, and he also spent a lot of time with the legendary Gil Evans. On Goodbye Svengali, Russell and his cast of guest musicians deliver a stunning late 60's styled fusion affair that harks back to the glory days of Miles Davis, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Nucleus, and Larry Coryell's Electric House, yet has the more recent stamp of such ECM luminaries as Terje Rypdal and Bill Frisell.
The opening "Everywhere" is a scorching slice of jazz-rock, with Russell's slippery and jagged guitar runs blazing through the thick haze of Robin Aspland's Fender Rhodes electric piano and Amy Baldwin's nimble acoustic double bass. At nearly 11-minutes, this one allows plenty of room for tension and drama, as well as instrumental fireworks. After the gorgeous acoustic piece "Without a Trace" comes the soul searching Miles Davis meets Ian Carr jazz of the title track, complete with yearning trumpet from Miles Evans, Baldwin's acrobatic double bass, the layered drum work of famed sticksman Gary Husband, and Ray's textured 7-string guitar chords and solos. A classy and bluesy take on Charles Mingus' classic "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" is up next, a duet with Russell and Gil Evans on Fender Rhodes. Russell used an old recording he had of the late piano master and composer that they had recorded in the 80's, and added a new guitar part to it. The results are stunning. "Wailing Wall" sees Russell solo with "wailing" electric guitar and EBow, and then is joined my long-time bassist Mo Foster and Husband on the acoustic meets searing electric frenzy of "Prayer to the Sun/The Fashion Police", featuring plenty of fuzz and wah-wah guitar licks. This piece is the longest on the album, clocking in at over 11-minutes, and contains Russell's most savage playing on the album, backed by the nimble grooves of Husband and Foster. When Russell cranks up the distortion and lays on the effects, he'll give you chills just like McLaughlin and Coryell did in their early years. Foster gets an opportunity to strut his stuff here as well with a sinewy bass solo, as does Husband, who displays his cagey chops and finesse.
"So Far Away" is an old Mo Foster piece that Gary Moore also recorded years ago, and Russell's version is as searing as it is emotional. On "Now Here's a Thing", the guitarist gets downright funky alongside the swirling Hammond work of Aspland, pulls out the classical guitar for the haunting "Afterglow", and pairs up with old mate Simon Phillips as well as Anthony Jackson and Tony Hymas for the intense yet mysterious "Blaize". Wait till you hear the incredible contrabass licks from Jackson on this one-whew! Plus, Russell delivers a monster of a solo on this one that screams from beginning to end. The guy can still flat out play!
Let's just make the statement-Goodbye Svengali is sure to be one of the best jazz related releases this year. If you aren't already familiar with the talents of this exceptional guitar player, shame on you, but it's not too late to discover all he has to offer. An album like this doesn't come around too often folks…dig in and enjoy!
2) Without a Trace
3) Goodbye Svengali
4) Goodbye Pork Pie Hat
5) Wailing Wall
6) Prayer to the Sun/The Fashion Police
7) So Far Away
8) Now Here's a Thing