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Ray Russell: Goodbye Svengali

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You probably know Ray Russell’s playing even if you’ve never heard the guy’s name. The British guitarist, a pro since 1963, has added licks to James Bond flicks as well as to popular albums by Tina Turner and Robert Plant. Much of his nonsession work, however, is best described as ‘underground.’ Russell snuck several avant-leaning albums onto CBS in the late ’60s and joined trumpeter Ian Carr’s Vertigo-jazz outfit Nucleus in 1971. A recording from the same year, June 11th 1971: Live at the ICA-recently reissued by Sonic Youth’s Jim O’Rourke-provides an excellent example of the outer reaches of Russell’s aesthetic: wild, woolly and not unlike freakazoid peer Sonny Sharrock.

The free spirit’s mixed-bag latest is Goodbye Svengali, a Gil Evans tribute, and it lies somewhere between what we’ve all heard and what only the noisenik crate-diggers can describe in full. Fleet-fingered opener “Everywhere” couples Russell’s wicked psych-jazz chops with glassy, Filles de Kilimanjaro-style accompaniment. The Russell-only cuts “So Far Away” and “Afterglow” layer mellow leads in oily layers of fuzz and reverb. And power-trio track “Prayer to the Sun/The Fashion Police” is-no lie-a dead ringer for Van Halen’s cover of “(Oh) Pretty Woman.” Splitting the difference may also cleave the audience, but Russell hardly seems like the type to care.