Ray Russell: From Dragon to Cradle

Ray RussellDragon Hill. CBS Realm 52663, 1969
RussellRites and Rituals. Columbia 494436 2; 1971

English six-string journeyman Ray Russell arched the dawning 1970s with a pair of albums which bridged the gulf between rock and jazz. Augmented by a cast including saxman Lyn Dobson (Locomotive, Keef Hartley Band) and veteran trumpeter Harry Beckett, Russell unleashed his licks across five frenzied cuts on Dragon Hill.

Misty keys and chordal shards open the mammoth “Dragon Hill”, which ultimately veers between freeform guitar/piano solos and structural bebop/blues sketches; replete with the high-end, atonal strumming which becomes Russell’s signature. He turns to more fluid licks on “Something in the Sky”, a jitterbug swept into the brassy winds of Beckett and Dobson. Bassist Ron Mathewson funkifies “Can I Have My Paperback Back” for the interplay of Russell and pianist Roy Fry, who trades his Steinway for Rhodes on this number. Alternately, Russell takes a powder for most of “We Lie Naked in Winter Snow”, a candlelight exchange between Mathewson and Fry. The full-cast is summoned for “Mandala”, in which the lightning lines of Russell are squared by a brass theme of such aplomb it would smite Chicago or Colosseum.

That latter brass/rock congregate – whose core members had played with Russell under the tutelage of Graham Bond – paved ground which lured Russell on his next outing, Rites and Rituals. The low-end strum which opens “Sarana” is swiftly raised by the layering of trombone, trumpet and sax; an assemblage soon knocked aside by Russell’s newly-manicured wall-of-distortion. Furthermore, “Sarana” echoes the amplified strides of John McLaughlin – another Bond alumnus spanning the jazz/rock divide – with Russell torching thirteen minutes of freeform; lassoed fleetingly at brass/rock intervals. Matching lengths but not ideas, the title-piece meanders amidst muffled bleats and coy noodling; the solid tune at 9:10 being all too brief. Contrastingly front-loaded is the gargantuan “Abyss”, whose dissonance runs dry by the halfway mark. Redemption is served in the final number, “Cradle Hill”, where the clashing currents of guitar, trombone and cello careen through a heady five-minute run.

Erratic or not, these records displayed Russell’s skill with such authority that his employ was now secure across a vast spectrum of British musical talent.


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