Russ Spiegel: Caribbean Blue – CD Review – Jazz Guitar Life


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Miami based Jazz Guitarist Russ Spiegel has released his seventh album as a leader – Caribbean Blue  – and it’s good…very good! I was not aware of Spiegel up until he sent me his latest but believe me, I know of him now and already looking forward to catching up on his back catalog.

Caribbean Blue takes the listener on a journey that blends Spiegel’s myriad of influences into a session of ten catchy, swingin’ and melodic tunes that should have your feet tapping and body swaying to the variety of rhythms found throughout.

Right off the bat you know you’re in for something special as “The Underdown Groove” gets the fingers snappin’ with its infectious throw-back to the glory days of Blue Note (think Herbie’s “Watermelon Man”) as Spiegel’s Trio of Organist Jim Gasior and Drummer Lucas Apostoleris “smoke” the chart alongside a great horn section featuring the likes of Brian Lynch on Trumpet, Tim Armacost on tenor sax and flute and on later tunes Javier Nero on Trombone. This is the perfect tune to showcase the remarkable talents of Spiegel, Lynch and Gasior along with the rest of the band. Suffice it to say they don’t disappoint!

The fun continues as “E 22nd St.” introduces the chromatic harmonica playing of Hendrik Meurkens to the mix in a swinging Brazilian style tune that brings to mind Pat Metheny’s use of Toots Thielman and Grégoire Maret back in the day. It’s a lively, feel good tune and a nice tip of the hat by Spiegel to Pat whether intentional or not.  

Herr Meurkens gets to shine again on the delicately tender title track alongside Spiegel’s acoustic steel string, as the remainder of the trio provide a soothing backdrop to Meurkens’ gentle reading of the melody before he lightly shapes his way through the solo changes. Spiegel follows suit with a wonderfully melodic solo that caters to the overall vibe of the tune before Meurkens takes back the head. A lovely piece of music indeed.

“Inquietude” is another delicate tune that not only features Meurkens, Gasior, Apostoleris and Spiegel – this time on acoustic nylon string – but also the Jobim style vocals/scatting of Ben Beal sung in both English and Portuguese which only adds to the legit flavor of Spiegel’s composition. The only thing missing from this song is Stan Getz 🙂

Speaking of legit flavor,”Island Song” keeps with the Caribbean feel as Spiegel lays down a simple, yet intricate rhythm guitar part that should have you up and moving from the first bar, or at the very least, chair dancing to the contagious Island rhythm. The whole band is featured on here with everyone doing a bang-up job keeping it real. Special shout-out to Drummer Lucas Apostoleris as he drives this tune hard with some great solo fills towards the end of the tune. Chances are you’ll be humming this song all day!

“Slippery Slope”, “Retribution Blues”, and “The Streets of Milan”, with its Metheny/Brecker “Song for Bilbao” inspired chart – at least to my ears – all feature the whole band doing what they do best…PLAY! In fact, what I really enjoy about this CD is that while Russ Spiegel is definitely the leader on this album, one gets the sense that it is a collective endeavor and not just one guy and a bunch of hired guns. If someone told me that this is a band that has been and played together for many years, I would not have doubted it for a second. This is not to say that Spiegel doesn’t shine on the album, because he does both as a writer and player, it is just that he takes a relative back-seat to his ego, allowing the songs to sparkle and shine with more than a little help from all concerned.

That being said, the Mike Stern-ish “Smooth Move” might be a slight exception as this tune is definitely a showcase for Spiegel’s splendid chops! Compared to the other tunes, it kind of is in the “odd-man-out” category more in line with a Larry Carlton/Lee Ritenour vibe as Spiegel steps on the overdrive pedal for some tasty Rock/Jazz lines that must have been fun to play on top of the cool Organ tones that Gasior was laying down! Apostoleris and Armacost keep us on our toes as well with a funky backbeat and “fine as wine” sax playing. A definite fav of mine on this album!

Gently winding down the session, “Coda”, which features the trio  – along with Meurkens – is a minute long tune reprising the title track as a way to bring us all back to the overall theme of the album. A splendid way to say “thanks for listening and until next time…”. Well done everyone!

Russ Spiegel may not be a household name – yet – but if you get the opportunity to hear Caribbean Blue, don’t be surprised by just how wonderful an album it truly is. Check it out!

Please consider spreading the word about Russ and Jazz Guitar Life by sharing this review amongst your social media pals and please feel free to leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you 🙂

If you would like to support all the work I do on Jazz Guitar Life, please consider buying me a coffee or visiting the Jazz Guitar Life sponsors. Thank you and your patronage is greatly appreciated regardless if you buy me a coffee or not 🙂

About Lyle Robinson 350 Articles
Lyle Robinson is the owner/creator/publisher and editor of Jazz Guitar Life, an online magazine dedicated to the Jazz Guitar and its community of fine players worldwide.

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