Guitarist Ray Russell has been hitting the strings for more than 35 years as a multi-faceted musician. Ray’s trademark bursts of improvisational imagery are the stuff of legends, while combining rock guitar with contemporary music. During his career, Ray has also gone above and beyond the expected by mastering the art of conveyance and transposing lyrical notes into fusion jazz.
Russell’s latest CD entitled Goodbye Svengali is a return of sorts after a number of years of hiding in plain sight to say the least. In coming out of his self-imposed hiatus, Ray has recorded a stirring tribute to the late Gil Evans, considered by many to be one of jazz’s foremost band leaders, composers and pianists. Although this CD may reflect little of Ray’s previous work, he does continue a formula that is full of vibrant color coordinated symbolism.
Goodbye Svengali is Ray Russell’s approach to intensely dynamic harmonic phrasing. His focused imagery paints a unique picture of rock-oriented fusion jazz. There are a varying array of nuances and abstract lines that go from point A to point B with fervent zeal, while exploring uncharted pathways of intuitive creativity. Ray accomplishes all of this with amazing detail and a rich interpretation of the dramatic. Tunes such as "Prayer to the Sun/The Fashion Police" and "Wailing Wall" provide contrasting views, but go the distance towards exhibiting Ray’s versatility.
Whenever he ventures into the cosmic reaches of the unknown nuances of fusion jazz, Ray impressive use of intertwining guitar licks can be mind boggling. As with many fusion jazz albums, venturing into the unknown is commonplace and some musicians forget to bring connoisseurs back to reality after the ride. But Ray Russell’s approach to fusion contains varying trends that are sometimes intrinsically offbeat and confusing, but he does provide pit stops along the way to serve as reference points, just to get back in tune with his musical journey.
When I first opened Goodbye Svengali, Ray Russell was not a name that I recognized. In fact, I considered him to be an obscure artist wanting recognition. What I did not know was just how significant Ray’s music is to the cause of jazz. Although jazz comes in many flavors, fusion styles coupled with avant-garde characteristics is not always pleasing to the ear. But in contrasting this fact, Ray has done a masterful job of connecting the dots evenly and effectively.
Goodbye Svengali is one of the few albums of its type I have enjoyed. Ray Russell may not be a household name, but I do expect he will become an influence, given the opportunity for a higher level of exposure. On one track in particular, "Without A Trace," Ray’s solo guitar stands out like a beacon in the night as he strategically employs unique sound effects to harmonically demonstrate an alternative to a more upbeat style.
Overall, it can be said that Ray Russell is an excellent guitarist and is one of Britain’s finest exports. His music can sometimes be delicate and haunting, but he can also pump up the volume with a high degree of strong rock-induced virtuoso guitar licks. He does this with sensitivity and ferocity depending upon the direction he may choose at any given moment. In hindsight, I can admit to being excited that I am now acquainted with Ray Russell and Goodbye Svengali.