Review by Wade Vonasek
Chimera is guitarist/composer Russ Spiegel's debut CD for SteepleChase, and his fourth under his own name. Spiegel says he is a latecomer to the jazz world after a decade of playing rock music. But his playing and compositions on Chimera do not reveal inadequacies, but rather showcase the chops and talent of this schooled musician and his band, which features Spiegel on guitar, David Smith on trumpet, Arun Luthra on saxophone, Nick Mancini on vibraphone, Gary Wang on bass and Anthony Pinciotti on drums.
The opening song and title track "Chimera" features smoking horns and a crisp, clean guitar tone where one can hear every note, and Spiegel plays quite a few on this piece. Ray Noble's standard "Cherokee" is interpreted here with cool chord work from Spiegel with the horns taking the melody, the drums roaming free and vibraphone zipping across the top. The laid back moodiness of "Polychrome World" contains minor chords, a bossa nova-type rhythm and vaguely flamenco sounding guitar leads, while in another slower-paced composition, "Wo Blieibt Die Seele," Spiegel's guitar takes on a dirtier electric tone, his leads breaking out and washing over intricate drum work by Pinciotti. Other standouts include "Herr Boehnke," with a roller coaster melody climbing up and down, more dirty-toned guitar and a chaotic drum part; and "Good Night," a mid-tempo piece featuring impressive trumpet work from Smith.
Spiegel seems to know when to stay in the back and be an anchor, and when to step out and shine, as do the rest of the band. Though Chimera is a somewhat challenging recording, Spiegel and his band are more than up for the task and come off sounding seasoned, and Chimera manages to sound structured, while still keeping an air of spontaneity.