Friday, 15 June 2007

Ray Brown...

This one is for 'The Ghost Of Jerry Reed', whose own excellent cycling/jazz blog LEXICON DEVIL currently has a nice Ray Brown download available. It just goes to show that cycling and jazz isn't such an improbable combination!!!

I reviewed this CD for the magazine a few years ago and obviously felt the same tension I feel now when I hear a musical legend resting on their laurels. Due reverence on the one hand, frustration that their growth has stagnated on the other.

I've spoken about this pattern of behaviour to numerous people over the years and tend to feel critics owe it to the people who buy this music (assuming that they aren't downloading it) to tell them its limitations and give a truly critical view. In this case I don't entirely ignore my own advice, as I still found a lot to enjoy, but give me some vintage Brown anyday...

Walk On
TELARC (CD-83515 2CD)

America The Beautiful; Sunday; Stella By Starlight; Lined With A Groove; Honeysuckle Rose; Fried Pies; You Are My Sunshine; That’s All; Ray Brown Suite; Hello Girls; F.S.R.; Stardust; Evidence; Woogie Boogie; In A Mellow Tone; The Nearness Of You; Much In Common; This Is Always; Three By Four; Down By The Riverside.

Geoff Keezer, Benny Green, Monty Alexander (p); Ray Brown, John Clayton, Christian Mc Bride (b); Karriem Riggins, Lewis Nash, Gregory Hutchinson (d).
Recorded 1994 to 2000.

If ever there were to be a Mount Rushmore constructed for bass players, Ray Brown’s features would be prominently displayed. Impeccable is perhaps the best way to describe the man and his music - everything from the dinner jacket and bow tie on the sleeve to his tone and articulation on his instrument. That this handsome package includes his last trio recordings is both a source of sadness (to see such a vital link in the history of jazz disappear) and joy (that a career in such a chequered business could have been one of such longevity).

For much of Ray Brown’s life as a bandleader, the format of choice has been based on the successful Oscar Peterson Trios of which he was a key member for many years. Tunes that people recognise and enjoy, imbued with a healthy dose of blues and gospel, and of course always swinging. ‘Fried Pies’ and ‘You Are My Sunshine’ from disc one update the formula by injecting a touch of boogaloo backbeat, and original pieces such as ‘The Ray Brown Suite’ conform to the old winning formula.

It is when we get to the standards however that things start to sound just a little tired. Perhaps his younger sidemen, who have subtly altered the trio’s musical centre of gravity, are now post-standards players? Geoff Keezer’s approach is far more contemporary than many of his predecessors, struggling at times to conceal his grounding in Tyner and Corea. A revised songbook acknowledging this fact may have provided a more invigorating session.

Benny Green, who appears on disc two, is arguably more at home on the old repertoire, though Monty Alexander’s brief cameo emphatically demonstrates just how you can bridge the two worlds. A series of bass trios with Clayton and McBride reaffirm Brown’s lifelong passion for his unwieldy instrument of choice, cleverly covering all of the melodic, rhythmic and harmonic bases. I suppose that when you’ve reached the top of your profession it would take a bold, restless or even foolish man to radically change their approach to music making. That Ray Brown chose simply to ‘Walk On’ is no bad thing really!

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, October 2003)

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