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Monday, October 31, 2022

"Chasing Horizons" Russ Hewitt — A Collective Invitation to Dance Away the Pain


That is what it is, arrogance, listen in this flamenco music this same arrogance of suffering. The force of what is so overwhelming, the self-sufficiency that is so delicate and tender without an instant of sentimentality. With infinite compassion, but at the same time, rejecting compassion. It is a precise suffering. 
—Guillermo Gaddis

Once you reach a certain level, regardless of the style, 
the playing becomes transcendent.
—Russ Hewitt

WARNING: This album sounds very pleasant and it may even calm you, but first impressions can be deceiving! There are sometimes angels trembling in the margins, and you know the devil is in the details. I was prepared to knock out this review with synonyms for "pretty" and stuff like that. But then I noticed that the rhythms all had different name like generally Nuevo Flamenco, and more specifically Samba, Montuno, Milonga, Rumba Flamenco, and Guajira — each rhythm of which is represented on this album. Huh oh! 

Then I realized I seem to have forgotten how to count time! I am expecting four, but here comes 5/4, 9/8 and 7/8 right there from my stereo while I seriously feel like I can dance, and that isn't something I do at my age unless the shades are drawn. 

I love odd time signatures (and when we're done with Chasing Horizons, I'll send some of my previous songs in odd time signatures). The key is to not make them feel 'jerky' or weird for the sake of being different. Almost sneak in the fact that you are listening to something that is different 

Then the music seems to get the scales wrong, but on closer inspection we've got modes: Lydian and Dorian #4! So now I'm getting a little nervous, because this music doesn't sound at all tricky, and I know in my heart that means I am dealing with some serious talent in this composer! Anyone can play that stuff, but most just sound "foreign" in the modes and hurky jerky in those rhythms and this music is absolutely smooth. All this on an album I could have sent to my mother on her birthday and she would like it. I've been had! Oh but that is just the beginning. 

Yes! To me that's the key. Take something complicated and make it appear simple...until you dig into what's actually being played. 

Check the personnel. No doubt a bunch of Latin surnames who grew up on samba. Whoops! How many times can I be dead wrong on one album? I have to sit down for this part. When I see Bucharest All-Star Orchestra, I know I'm in trouble. Guest guitarists the masterful Jorge Strunz and Ardeshir Farah of Strunz & Farah. Short pause for dramatic effect. Then mic drop! Nuno Bettencourt of EXTREME and Marty Friedman formerly of Megadeth are on this album playing Latin solos that are dripping with gitano emotion and nuevo flamenco drama. And the closer I listen, the more I hear. Russ Hewitt is a fine guitarist in his own right, but he is here as a composer for this suite of songs with an acute eye for detail. Add in the Vietnamese zither played like a native of Seville by Tri Nguyen and we have ourselves a party.

My nominee for the "Funk Brothers" award or the "Wrecking Crew" certificate goes to the force of nature rhythm section listed immediately below. They got a low end bass and bass drum and they are not afraid to use it, and while I may focus on the front players, nobody would be dancing without this crack team of beat monsters. To my ears, they are flawless and fun to boot:

    Walfredo Reyes Jr (Santana, Steve Winwood, Chicago, Frank Gambale) 
    Bob Parr (Cher, Brian Setzer Orchestra, Barry White) 
    Rafael Padilla (Miami Sound Machine, Shakira, Gloria Estefan) 
    Efren Guzman (Alejandro Fernandez, Armando Manzanero, Andrea Bocelli)

Pay attention only to the form; emotion will come spontaneously 
to inhabit it. A perfect dwelling place always finds an inhabitant. 
—Andre Gide

Of course, it is enough that this music has solid smooth surface, and a hurricane of smarts in the mix. I am calming down and feeling the groove now. I don't feel guilty for having fun. Not with these specs and not with this crew. I can tell my friends to dig a little deeper and listen for the content cause there is plenty of that, but there's gotta be a story here. And there is. Hey Russ! Is there a story here?

"Yes. Started in rock/heavy metal, then got a degree in classical performance from the University of North Texas, while still playing in bands. I discovered Ottmar Liebert and enjoyed the Nuevo Flamenco vibe, then discovered Strunz and Farah which changed my approach to the guitar and what can be done with it. After my last rock band broke up, the producer thought we should pursue this style of music. He was right, I've had more success and acknowledgement than all of my years with electric guitar. I'm in the Dallas area, and my producer is the guy that brought in the incredible backing band. The guest artists come from me and my connections."

Now I've been having some fun, but Russ Hewitt is a real composer née guitarist, and he already shut me down about the dazzling list of players. It doesn't matter how dazzling the personnel if the songs aren't strong, or if the players don't play to support the songs. The songs are the key to this album, and these stellar musicians play every note to bring out the emotion and the story in the melody of these songs.

Completely agree with the solo analogy and the guest artists contributions! * Marty and Nuno are of the highest level of musicians, of any genre.  ** Improv is a mindset with endless possibilities, transitioning that to life has to be met with open arms and be willing to 'roll with it'. Much harder than it sounds.


This album has introduced me to Latin styles of music that have made my world bigger, and taught me a special way to feel through things that has already helped me get things done while living in fear and trembling everytime I watch 10 minutes of the “News.” This is where I could do a song-by-song type-as-I-listen review, but I really only have one very big and important thing to say: The credentials of the players don't mean a damn thing if the music doesn't move me. I think they move me, but I want to be sure. Hold on and listen tight. Yeah! They move me! 

He who sings scares away his woes.
—Miquel de Cervantes

I am grateful to Russ Hewitt and all the players on this album for teaching me a new way to feel music. There is a subtle depth of feeling in these songs. Instead of crying about the pain, this music feels it all collectively. The music speaks to me, “We feel it too, but we will help each other to keep dancing!” Those solos on the guitar assault our troubles with firestorms of melody. When this music is playing, I do not ever feel alone. With these songs in my heart, I ain’t never going home.

Just with one hand grasping on tradition and the other one scratching around, searching. It is very important not to forget the tradition because it’s there where you find the essence, the message, the basis. From it you can really go anywhere and escape, but never leaving this root, since, in the end, flamenco’s identity, smell and flavour are there.

—Paco de Lucia

The smooth sweet surface of this Nuevo Flamenco music contains a deep well of emotion and a way of living through hard times that I feel more and more as I learn to listen properly to this music. I have branched out and done a quick survey of the many artists in this genre, and I feel this album goes as deep anything I can feel. Russ Hewitt and his fabled friends are musicians at the highest level my heart can reach, which means they aren't showing off but taking aim at the hurt and fear we all feel and assaulting our sorrow with a firepower of song. 

This album shows me that this "happy" music hides a soul on fire, and I have a use for that kind of music in my life. I have also been gifted with a new appreciation for Megadeth, EXTREME, Strunz & Farah and Vietnamese Zither — All that on an album that makes my friends and my sweet landlord happy that I am playing it loud from the patio above the family's home. This smooth music hides a "force of what is so overwhelming, the self-sufficiency that is so delicate and tender without an instant of sentimentality." (Guillermo Gaddis) Every note on this album, every rest, all the rhythm, melody, and flourish is full of emotion and dancing through the air with life.

Music is inscribed between noise and silence, in the space of the social codification it reveals. Every code of music is rooted in the ideologies and technologies of its age, and at the same time produces them.

—Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music

Oh yeah, forgot to mention. The guitar playing on this album is AMAZING! 

This and not another is the secret of the greatness of a music, which, today, is considered in the whole world the most unique, genuine and admirable sign of cultural identity of our country. This capacity of fascination that flamenco exerts on the public of any culture and of any language, arises from its authenticity and its credibility. Flamenco comes to the hearts of people because it is the truth of a people.

Article: El Flamenco, patrimonio de los gitanos (translation by SpanishDict!)

Take a break and watch the videos! Come back for the "Interview" after dancing and some lunch!

Russ Hewitt
Professional Guitarist

INTERVIEW (Q's are Billy & the A's Russ Hewitt)

While I have you, what is "Chasing Horizons" about? Is horizon the new? The undiscovered? Or is it a metaphor for each new day?

My favorite part of the day is dusk. As a child it was the coolest part of the day from the Texas sun, and it meant that I only had a little more time to ride my bike before I had to be home by dark. As an adult, it's the sunsets I love and how it lights up the sky. Not the harsh brightness of the day or darkness of the night. A nice breeze and a view could be magical. The video also helped decide the title as well. Nuno's video was in the morning, mine was supposed to be as well, but we ran late. Ha! I always loved the lyric line from 'Running On Empty' by Jackson Browne, "Running into the Sun, but I'm running behind." To me, in a literal sense, that's dusk into night when I heard the song as a kid. As an adult, I understand the metaphorical meaning.

Do you think of yourself as a composer, songwriter, or guitarist?

When I started out I considered myself a guitarist. As I started playing in bands and writing songs with band mates, I considered myself a songwriter. Now I consider myself a composer because I'm looking to create a over-all arc or feeling per song written.

What does each song make you feel as a composition? (The music is more articulate. But words are all I have -- harmony by Nuno, of course.)

Each song as a composition, I feel is its own entity. I could do a 30 min lecture on each song on the construction and intent. Most importantly is how they fit together as a whole. Take 'Rumours' by Fleetwood Mac, yes there are stand out hits, but even the smaller 'non-hits' serve a role. The 'non-hits' are still great songs, but act as a glue to the bigger ones. All of the songs can't be and feel the same, yet it can't be all over the board either. The beauty of the niche that I play is I'm able to borrow from all over the Latin world. 

Does a song ever surprise you while you are writing it? Does it go somewhere unexpected?

Almost every song, at some point during its inception to the final product, will surprise me. Every song starts off with me writing the chord progression with whatever rhythm I want to write it in. From there I'll create a melody and sections. Each step after that twists and changes will occur once other instruments and the producer add to it, and then in the mix stage. Each song is a butterfly of sorts.

What does this music teach you as a man or a husband that you didn't know before?

Problem solving and finding a way to make something work. Also, being patient and being able to see 'the big picture.' There's always a way, now let's figure out how.

When you become the artist you need to become, what will that sound like?

I don't know if I would sound much different, maybe just a better form of what I already am. I'm always trying to improve in all aspects of my playing and writing, but I think with this fourth album, I've hit upon what works best for me.

Do you believe your intention still attaches to a song? Or does the song have an independent life and meaning on its own?

Well my intent and the listeners interpretation might be two completely different things, which is great actually. My goal as an instrumental artist is to create a canvas that will allow the listener to put any kind of impression over it. I've had many people describe to me what they thought of when hearing a particular song, and I love it. Music should be about how it makes you feel, and it's rewarding to hear that kind of feedback.

Does it help you to hear music completely unrelated to your own? What do you listen to?

I do my best to balance what I listen to. Sometimes it's other artists in my genre, or closely related genre, to see what they are doing or not doing. Other times it's everything else; new releases by bands I like, the new 'hot' band, top 10/popular songs, legacy acts, guitar players, etc. I love to break down songs and figure out why they're popular or why I like them. It's hard to listen to music sometimes without a 'critical ear,' which is why the rest of the time is spent in silence or with talk radio.

Do you write charts? Chick Corea's top influence was Elgar. Where did you learn form, structure, and feel?

I do write charts and notation, but when we go in to record, I allow the musicians to bring to the table their years of experience and playing. That ensures the best possible version of the song we're recording. I mean, why bring in these world class musicians only to tell them what to play. Of course there is guidance and suggestions on my part of what I want the song to be, but I want them to bring in something I couldn't or wouldn't have thought of. The collective hive works best in most cases. 

Who knocks you out? Gabor Szabo? George Benson? Nuno? Segovia? Hendrix?

All of them and more! To me, there's good, great, and then there are maestros. Once you reach a certain level, regardless of the style, the playing becomes transcendent. YouTube is wonderful for discovering new players or rediscovering players I've only read or heard about. Seeing great guitar players still excites me like it did when I was younger, especially seeing them live. Makes me realize there's always another level to achieve.  


This project, Chasing Horizons, took almost four years from start to finish. I could send a physical CD, please give me the address, or provide streaming or a Dropbox/WeTransfer link. Below are some details about the recording.

CHASING HORIZONS is a rhythmic fusion of: 

• Samba (Sunset Samba feat. Jorge Strunz)
• Montuno (Vivir Libre feat. Marty Friedman)
• Milonga (Amor Perdido feat. Bucharest All-Star Orchestra)
• Rumba Flamenco (Allende)
• Guajira (Cubalia Café feat. Ardeshir Farah)
• 5/4 groove (Serein)
• 9/8 groove (Return to Simitai feat. Tri Nguyen)
• 7/8 groove (Chasing Horizons feat. Nuno Bettencourt)

With a touch of exotic modes: 

• Dorian #4 ('Luna')

• Lydian ('Luminous')


    Nuno Bettencourt (Extreme, Rihanna) 
    Marty Friedman (Megadeth, solo artist)
    Jorge Strunz (Strunz & Farah)
    Ardeshir Farah (Strunz & Farah)

    Bucharest All-Star Orchestra (Romanian National Symphony Orchestra)

    Tri Nguyen 

    Walfredo Reyes Jr (Santana, Steve Winwood, Chicago, Frank Gambale) 

    Bob Parr (Cher, Brian Setzer Orchestra, Barry White)

    Rafael Padilla (Miami Sound Machine, Shakira, Gloria Estefan) 
    Efren Guzman (Alejandro Fernandez, Armando Manzanero, Andrea Bocelli)


The Story

Initially I came up with the chorus chord progression. I liked the fingerstyle arpeggio motif I was doing but wasn't sure what to do with it. I played it for my producer and he suggested I put it in a 7/8 time signature, from there the song fell into place very quickly. When we recorded the song, I thought the drums and bass were just killing it. Almost like a power trio kind of vibe where everything was locked in. When I was listening back to the song, I kept thinking of Nuno and how he would lock in with EXTREME on funk grooves. I felt this song would be rhythmically and harmonically interesting enough for Nuno to play on, so I reached out.

Nuno Bettencourt

Every time I've spoken with Nuno, our conversations always lead into Flamenco and Spanish guitar players. He's a big fan of the style and quite knowledgeable. I knew at some point I would want to present him a song and felt this was the perfect one to do so. I had requested that he used a nylon string guitar on it, but said an acoustic would work too or an electric with no distortion. Nuno was very active in the final production of the song, suggesting that I add a quarter note ride or cowbell throughout the song and adding in the hand claps during the solo. His positivity and enthusiasm towards the song and my playing was really encouraging coming from someone of Nuno's stature.


After watching Nuno's video of his solo, I was inspired to do my video in a location that most people have never seen before. I found a small town in the middle of Mexico with a population of a couple of hundred people. It was filmed all in one location outside of the Iglesia De Jalpa. Surrounded by mountains, 30ft high cactus, an old Mission in ruins, and the Church of Jalpa, I couldn't have asked for a better spot. A three hour drive from the nearest airport, I feel confident that no one has filmed a video here. Ha
!Truly a global project, the orchestra was recorded at SGO Music Factory studio in Bucharest, Romanina, while the band was recorded at Savannah Street studio in Denton, Texas. In Romania, current director at Bucharest National Opera, Tiberiu Soare, conducted the session, with Ric Flauding serving as the Artistic Director of Recording. While in Texas, the band was recorded by Bob Parr, who also produced and mixed the track. 

The project came together after Ionut Cosarca, the creative mind behind the Bucharest All-Star Orchestra, contacted Flauding, who suggested he check out my music because he thought it would be a great fit. Ionut agreed, and the project was born. Two songs were chosen. One was Amor Perdido, and the other was Palma de Mallorca, from the CD 'Bajo El Sol,' which will be released at a later date.

Flauding arranged the strings for Amor Perdido, as well as many of my other songs, including the string arrangements performed by the Irving Symphony Orchestra.

Going under the name Bucharest All-Star Orchestra, the group comprises some of the most qualified and experienced musicians in Bucharest, including the National Symphony Orchestra. The goal of the orchestra is to rival the London Philharmonic Orchestra (and other orchestras) in their ability to record Pop, Rock, and Commercial music, along with the standard Classical repertoire. I'm honored to have my song chosen as one of the first to showcase their talent.

The other incredible musicians on this track include drummer Elijah M. Parr; bassist Bob Parr (Cher, Brian Setzer Orchestra, Barry White); and percussionist Efren Guzman (Alejandro Fernandez, Arnandi Mamzanero, Andrea Bocelli). Bob Parr also did the sequencing and Pads on the track.

The song is based on a Argentinian milonga pattern, which essentially is a slower version of a tango. This is the first song where I utilized my Classical guitar training, writing a song based on a fingerstyle melody. I feel it's one of my best compositions, particularly the key change for the chorus. With the addition of the orchestra, Amor Perdido is one of my favorites.


'ALLENDE' marks the second video out of three that was shot in the San Miguel de Allende area. Much like the video 'Chasing Horizons' featuring Nuno Bettencourt, the idea was to find locations that were lesser known or had never been used before.

In the 'ALLENDE' video I use two locations and blended them together. The first location was San Miguel de Viejo on the Rio Laja. This is a small chapel built near the site of the original settlement of San Miguel. Most scholars agree that it was built between 1720 and 1730 and features both indigenous and European styles of architecture. 

The second location was the maguey fields in Lagunillas, Guanajuato. Though resembling a cactus, complete with thorny edges, the maguey is actually a member of the agave family – a cousin to the Tequila blue agave. 

Ending Credits Footage 

The scene starts with the pouring of Pulque de Tuna, which is Pulque mixed with red prickly pear. Pulque is an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the maguey plant. The drink was made from the fields I was playing in during the video. The drink's history extends far back into the Mesoamerican period when it was considered sacred. My taste palate had never experienced that taste or texture before as you can probably tell by the expression on my face in the video. Definitely an unique experience that I would do again!

During one of our filming breaks, Joslin one of my videographers, walks up and does a couple of sweeping shots of the area. I hope from that and the drone shots you can get a sense of how majestic the location is.

The final shot is us walking through the maguey field where they can reach up to 20 feet in height.

The video was edited by Joslin Dsouza.

Russ Hewitt
Professional Guitarist


Submissions accepted. Send a link, not a CD. Lyrics and artwork plus any information is appreciated. Access to artists for interviews encouraged. 

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