'Based in Byron Bay, pianist Steve Russell is an accomplished musician who deserves to be more widely known, a situation that should be changed by the simultaneous release of two impressive albums.
When The Light Comes is a reissue of his 2004 debut, for anyone who missed it the first time around. It finds Russell playing solo (a fine reading of Monk’s ‘Round Midnight’), in a trio (for example, the joyous rhythmic dance of ‘A Ticket Out O’ Here’, with bassist Jack Thorncraft and drummer Dave Sanders), or in other small group formats, featuring some of the finest talents who live (or have lived) in the Byron Bay area. John Hoffman’s trumpet is featured on the Cole Porter song ‘So In Love’, Dave Ades’ alto on one track, Tony Buchanan’s tenor sax on three. James Sherlock adds guitar on three tracks, Jim Kelly on one. In all formats, Russell impresses as a fluent and thoughtful soloist, one who doesn’t play as if he has anything to prove, and also writes some attractive compositions.
Dark Matters is the more recently recorded set, a live session that finds Russell in the company of guitarist Matt Smith (Thirsty Merc, The Strides), bassist Greg Lyon (from Crossfire, back in the ‘70s and ‘80s) and drummer Scott Hills (Graham Connors, The McClymonts). There is the extra burst of energy that often comes from a ‘live’ recording, and the four combine seamlessly, especially in the way that Russell and Smith share the lead role, on a program of Russell originals.'
- Adrian Jackson
When the Light Comes *****
THIS is a beautiful and inspired debut album from Byron Bay based pianist Steve Russell. With a host of exceptional musicians from northern NSW and Brisbane in tow as well as some stunning original compositions (check out the sweeping title track), Russell represents Australian jazz at its best.
Accessible tunes and short solos make this album easy to enjoy while the formidable talents of the musicians and Russell's harmonically adventurous tendencies keep the listener guessing.
Russell shines on his Debussy-meets-Wayne Shorter feel of ‘Forty Days’, where broad two-handed voicings play over a driving Latin rhythm. And trumpet legend John Hoffman's statement of Cole Porter's ‘So In Love’ gives its classic melody a new dignity and poise.
Drummer Dave Sanders shows why he is one of the best "feel" players in the region, while providing flare. Other notable moments include guitarist James Sherlock's solo on Julian's Jump and Russell's beautiful playing on the quietly joyful ‘An Anthem for Amy’.
- James O'Brien
When the Light Comes
Further proof of the quality of jazz scenes outside our major cities; the pianist has gathered the core artists of the northern NSW jazz scene. Two sparkling solo-piano standards - 'Round Midnight' and 'Stella by Starlight' are expressed thoughtfully and respectfully, while his originals germinate from a generic, well-versed tradition then expose contemporary influences from Cuban to Coltrane and West Coast characteristics.
Russell's compositions allow Jack Thorncraft's bass a collaborative role in forming the melodic appeal of this material and his bow work is as commanding as ever. Tony Buchanan, John Hoffman and Jim Kelly also stamp their brands.
- Peter Wockner
'Steve Russell's compositions are truly excellent and diverse enough to sustain the listener’s attention throughout. He has assembled excellent groups of players to perform his music and the pieces are obviously well rehearsed.'
Craig Scott Chair of Jazz Studies, Sydney Conservatorium of Music.