Some fourteen years after raving enthusiastically about Russ Hewitt’s stellar debut album Bajo del Sol, it’s delightful to realize via his years in the making, perfectly titled fourth album Chasing Horizons that the veteran Dallas rocker turned Latin influenced acoustic guitarist is as melodically creative, rhythmically diverse as ever and still working with an incredible array of collaborators on music as intimate, romantic and soulful as it is inventively exotic.
At the time of his debut, the best way of explaining his infectious, wildly adventurous vibe was to compare it to other great instrumental artists (Ottmar Liebert, Jesse Cook, Strunz & Farah, Lara & Reyes) who set the popular standard for this type of music – and reach (sometimes in vain, as there is always a disconnect between heart transforming feelings and mere words) for the best available adjectives. At one point in the review, I threw up my proverbial hands and wrote, “Rather than dissect the music. . .it’s best to just let it play all the way through and let its rhythm and romance sweet you away.”
One of the great pleasures of Chasing Horizons is that as we listen to the full on, toe tapping seduction (yikes, there are those limiting words again!) from the spirited, sweetly melodic and easy grooving opener “Allende” to the trippy, mind-bending plucky dual East/West fusion of Hewitt’s guitar and guest Vietnamese zither master Tri Nguyen on “Return to Simitai,” Hewitt kindly offers a precise, ultra-informative style guide from track to track. Thus, fans embracing his lush string playing and zesty grooves and productions can identify, say, the snappy, dancing title track (featuring guitarist Nuno Bettencourt) as a 7/8 groove, the charming funk shuffle “Vivir Libre” (another dazzling duet, with former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman) as Montuno, and the sultry, dreamy film-score like ballad “Amor Perdido” (warmed and elevated by the Bucharest All-Star Orchestra) as Milonga.
Since I happily and appropriately compared his composing and playing on the first album to Strunz & Farah, it’s also incredible to hear Hewitt working his dual magic separately with both Jorge Strunz (on the whimsical, tropical tinged “Sunset Samba”) and Ardeshir Farah (on the Latin funk fusion romp “Cubalia Café,” a Guajira). Perhaps Hewitt’s extra illumination isn’t essential for your overall enjoyment of the percussive variations from track to track, and for these engaging, infectious and magnificently performed tunes.
Yet being educated by someone so well versed in these vibes helps guys like me avoid the kind of description I fumbled for last time: “a tropical beach and a cold Corona or margarita should be in the picture.” I’m mostly excited that many years after blistering Dallas with his rock bands, Hewitt is still chasing such dynamic and freewheeling (not to mention festive!) horizons.