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Chimera by Russ Spiegel

So many of us end up in careers we never intended to pursue. I think we can all say that it’s a good thing Russ Spiegel decided to break off his graduate studies in philosophy and apply to Berklee College, where he studied composition, arranging and guitar performance. Now an established part of the New York music scene, Spiegel releases this fourth album, Chimera, in all original compositions, with the exception of the standard "Cherokee."

In reading Spiegel’s short biography in the liner notes, you get the impression that he is a complex man coming from an influential background, and it shows in his compositions. The title track, "Chimera," is meant to be a double entendre, describing both the mythical beast and the idea of a fantasy or impossible scheme. The piece is constantly changing; meter, mood, tempo, and beat are all a fluid continuum between different themes. While it starts out with a gentle vibraphone and drum melody, when the horns enter, the pace shifts to a fast bebop feel. The meter changes between five, four and three make the piece challenging, but the group executes each change with a fluidity that comes only from playing with one another for a long time.

To change gears completely from the whirlwind of time and beat that "Chimera" is, Spiegel also gives us some more sensual sounds, such as "Polychrome World." The melody of this lyrical Brazilian bossa nova is first played by saxophonist Arun Luthra after an introduction by guitar, vibraphones and drums. The mixing of Lydian and minor chords gives the piece a sad, reminiscent tone, while the solos have a more upbeat quality to them that contrasts the background phrases. Overall, it is a very empathetic piece. Spiegel’s solo is very much in character for the bossa nova feel, mixing in some Latin-type phrases every now and again.

"Wo Bleibt Die Seele" (German for "Where Is the Soul?") shows the darker side of Spiegel’s music. He describes the piece as "a musing on the state of a world where so much today seems soulless." A ponderous beat between drums and vibraphones gives the impression of drudging feet pointlessly marching on. Spiegel uses some distortion in this piece, perhaps to give it a more raw and primal edge. The horn lines ring with discord and dissonant harmonies as well, while the drums keep up the ponderous beat through out the piece. Like the rest of the pieces on this album, this is emotionally-charged music that is likely a lot more difficult than the musicians make it out to be.

The rest of the tracks all have their own appeal. Spiegel’s version of "Cherokee" uses an F pedal-tone that works its way up to the bridge, where he uses Coltrane’s "Countdown" changes. "The Last March" is a very free style piece with a lot of interaction during the solos. Overall, another great release from an amazing composer.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Russ Spiegel
  • CD Title: Chimera
  • Genre: Contemporary Jazz / Modern
  • Year Released: 2007
  • Record Label: Steeplechase Productions
  • Tracks: Chimera, Polychrome World, The Last March, Cherokee, Wo Bleibt Die Seele, Good Night, Herr Boehnke
  • Musicians: Russ Spiegel (Guitar), David Smith (Trumpet), Arun Luthra (Saxophones), Nick Mancini (Vibraphone), Gary Wang (Bass), Anthony Pinciotti (Drums)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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