Guitarist/composer Russ Spiegel is one of the bright lights of modern jazz, who seems always to be seeking to bring the full force of various influences together to create something new. From solo guitar to film scores to big band sounds and everything in between, including spending the last four years as music instructor for the Naked Brothers Band Nickelodeon TV show, this former rock and roll guitarist exhibits an interest in numerous music styles, which comes out in spades in his exciting compositions. On the heels of his well-received release Chimera (see our review here) comes a recording with the Russ Spiegel Jazz Orchestra, a 17-piece ensemble. Transplants consists of nine originals by Spiegel, as well as standards by Ray Noble, Duke Ellington and Paul Weston.
The result is an enjoyable listening experience. Spiegel is an exceptionally talented guitarist, but here he only takes three solos, while allowing others in the ensemble their share of the spotlight, and these fine players respond to the call to action. Tim Armacost starts things up nicely on sax on the opening number, "Count Up," which features interesting changes and well-balanced horn sections. Spiegel, an excellent rock and fusion player, solos confidently in a straight-forward guitar vein here and throughout this album.
"Kangaroo" is a lovely smooth Latin number with flutes and melodic guitar work. Pianist Rachel Eckroth pitches in with an assured solo and Arun Luthra's soprano sax is slinky. "Number One" is a tough and bluesy big band number, while the waltzing "Undertow" is moody and drifts along like a melancholy tide. The version of "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart" showcases trumpeter James Smith and saxophonist Dan Pratt to good effect. "The Rub" is 9:07 of swirling twists and turns propelled by bassist Yoshi Waki, drummer Owen Howard and percussionists, Todd Isler and Jack Davis. Clarinetist Craig Yaremko is featured on "I Should Care," which closes out this fine recording. And not content to stick with instrumentals, Spiegel also features vocalist Michael Camacho on this number, and a smartly swinging version of "The Very Thought of You," as well as on the fiery and quite catchy '70s funk-influenced "Chain Reaction."
There is a little something for everyone to like on Transplants, and it is clear that Spiegel is a composer we will be hearing more great things from in the future.