With Alma Vieja, Hewitt has surpassed every expectation I had of him. After I fell in love with his last record, Bajo el Sol, I knew I had a guitar General on the battlefield, but I wasn’t sure if the follow-up disc would be able to introduce anything new to his flamenco style of play. Alma Vieja is ten times the record that Bajo el Sol is. Where Baja el Sol primarily stuck to the flamenco style and the Latin influence, and did it with great success, this disc kicks down those walls and journeys to lands of further enchantment.
Let’s start with the lead track, “Pelorhino.” This is a track that is done with a distinct Latin flavor, but it also has a bit of a rock driving force behind it. The solos are quick-fingered and they give the listener a wink to let them know that things are being taken a step further. The second track on the CD does the same thing, but this time it’s a jazz style that winks at you through the dark veil of Latin-based flamenco. But it was the third track on the disc that floored me, and I still have yet to stand firmly on my feet.
“Pacific Sunrise” is a song that shows enormous growth on behalf of Hewitt. As a foot-tapping, full blown jazz tune (I mean, like something from a David Sanborn record; screaming saxophone and all), Hewitt shines a full spotlight on his jaw-dropping sax player, Michael Lington. This is one of the best jazz songs I’ve ever heard, thanks to Hewitt’s ability to lay back a bit and mesh perfectly with Lington’s horn. And as soon as I started to get up off the floor, Hewitt delivers another punch in the jaw. “Dhanyavad” is another song that finds Hewitt sharing a spotlight. This time it’s Grammy award-winning violinist Charlie Bisharat that shakes a musical hand with Hewitt’s precision picking. As Bisharat is ushered in by Santana alum Wilfredo Reyes, Jr.’s drumming, I got visions of Jean-Luc Ponty. Much like Ponty’s jazz work, Bisharat carries the rhythm of the song while playing an expressive solo as well. But it’s the trade off between Hewitt and Bisharat that makes this an amazing piece of art.
As the CD progresses it remains unrelenting in its songwriting approach. Hewitt finds himself keeping his Latin groove in place, while adding touches of rock, pop and jazz to make things interesting. His speed and passionate picking sets the tone for songs like “Moonlake Drive,” “Tango For Ahn,” and “Gypsy.” But, you soon realize that Russ Hewitt can do no wrong here. As I was listening to him re-invent himself, I started to scratch my head and wonder if I really knew who Russ Hewitt was, and I decided that I do. Russ Hewitt is the best of his kind.