Ray Brown Trio
Produced by Ray Brown and Elanie Martone
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That any musician, vocalist or instrumentalist who can claim Ray Brown as a "best friend" is a lucky individual may be the best-documented fact of twentieth-century and now twenty-first-century music. The bassist has simply been the embodiment of simpatico in matters musical since first emerging during jazz's modern revolution over half a century ago. Brown provides both center and sense of direction, harmonic knowledge and melodic feeling, keenly calibrated ensemble proportion, and an irresistible, inevitably proper pace. He treats his friends exquisitely, which moves them to respond in kind.
One might say that Brown began putting many of his friendships in order with the Some of My Besf Friends series that has taken shape among his diverse Telarc projects of the past several years. He began, fittingly, with his preferred context of the piano trio in 1994, assembling a guest list that included turn-of-the-millennium Brown trio pianist Geoff Keezer and his predecessor Benny Green, longtime musical brother Oscar Peterson, and fellow Pittsburgher Ahmad Jamal. Sax players and singers followed, with a mix of the celebrated and underrated, veterans and newcomers in each case. The pattern is maintained in this present volume, where the guests are all members of an instrumental family that Brown knows as well as any.
The jazz world first met Brown through one of its most illustrious trumpet giants, Dizzy Gillespie, who began featuring the young bassist and his compositions first in combo and then big-band settings in 1 946. Thanks to Brown's subsequent tenure with Jazz at the Philharmonic and producer Norman Granz, the bassist also found frequent occasion to perform with Roy Eldridge, Harry "Sweets" Edison, and the fountainhead, Louis Armstrong. And when Clark Terry, the senior participant in the present collectio.n, set his horn aside to record the immortal "Mumbles," he was mumbling on Brown's walking blues lines. It would be hard to imagine a bassist better qualified, or more fitting, for an occasion such as the present encounter.
Of course, players of several generations have contributed to Brown's brass bag. The half-dozen horns he assembled for this conclave with his working trio represent an age range of fifty-three years and - as one indication of the international network formed by the "FORs" (Friends of Ray) - span hemi- spheres.
As previously noted, Clark Terry (b. 1920) could have been invited to Brown's vocal party, though it is his instantly recognizable work on trumpet and flugelhorn for which he is usually celebrated. Terry comes from St. Louis, one of the most important trumpet cities, and did valuable early work in the bands of Charlie Barnet and Count Basie before a decade-long tenure with Duke Ellington in the '50s made him a star. Like Brown on the West Coast, Terry helped open the New York studio scene to African-American musicians, receiving extensive television exposure in the process, while also building a career that has spanned decades as a headline performer, educator, and international jazz ambassador. Here Terry uses an infectious original line as a forum for working both sides of a debate by alternating between open flugelhorn and muted trumpet. (Keezer also gets in on the discussion.) Brown's new drum star, Karriem Riggins, announces "Itty Bitty Blues," the latest example of Terry's mastery of the twelve-bar structure.
Oakland native Jon Faddis (b. 1953) would have a connection with Brown if only through his status as the former protege of, and greatest living trumpet authority on the music of, Dizzy Gillespie; but Faddis has done far more than ensure that Diz lives. His legendary technique and musicianship have put his horn in demand for every imaginable style of music, while his dedication and creativity have led him to the musical directorship of the innovative Carnegie Hall Jazz Band. His unusually slow version of the classic blues "Bag's Groove" finds Faddis at his most straightforward and soulful, with the entire performance serving as a requiem for its composer (and another Gillespie discovery from the '40s), Milt Jackson. Brown and Jackson, of course, were in the Gillespie big band rhythm section with John Lewis and Kenny Clarke that eventually evolved into the Modern Jazz Quartet. The strongly African 12/8 tempo of "Original Jones" gives Faddis the opportunity to display his incredible upper register on a statement drenched in a different kind of emotion.
Terence Blanchard (b. 1 962) is our next trumpeter in order of seniority (by eight months) and the first of two from that greatest of trumpet towns, New Orleans. While he initially made his reputation in the hard-blowing Art Blakey Jazz Messengers and the quintet he co-led with saxophonist Donald Harrison, Blanchard now divides his time between leading his own band and serving as the jazz world's most prominent young emissary to the world of film scoring. His two tracks reprise signature songs from two of the most popular big bands of the swing era. Benny Goodman's sign-off theme "Goodbye," a highlight of the collection, features Blanchard's dusky sound and Keezer's shimmering interlude, while "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" gets a far friskier reading than it received when it announced Tommy Dorsey's orchestra.
James Morrison (b. 1962) gives new meaning to being a jazz trumpeter from the deep South - he was born in Boorowa, Australia, and grew up in Sydney. After gaining invaluable knowledge while still a teenager working in the group of Australian clarinetist Don Burrows, Morrison has benefitted from associations with the great American musicians he regularly encounters. He hooked up with Brown during a 1989 tour of the Phillip Morris Superband, and went on to record a CD of his own playing and writing with the bassist in support. The beautiful "When You Go" provides a forum for Morrison's lyrical gifts, as well as a central section where the tempo rises and the music begins to dance, and the funky mood that Brown establishes and the trumpeter sustains on "\ Thought About You" suggests that some of the thoughts in question might be highly erotic. In addition to his trumpet prowess, note that Morrison also performs regularly on trombone, euphonium, saxophones, and piano, proving that some of Ray Brown's best friends are also multi-instrumentalists.
Roy Hargrove (b. 1 969) is one of many great jazz artists to emerge from Texas. He had acquired a substantial word-of-mouth reputation as a Dallas teenager, and after a "Berklee minute" at the famous Boston jazz college (where his roommate was Geoff Keezer) he moved to New York and established one of the strongest working bands of the past decade. In recent years, Hargrove's music has been marked by the impact of his experience visiting Cuba and playing with Cuban musicians. While this Afro-Latin emphasis provides one point of affinity with Gillespie, Hargrove honors Dizzy here with a classic bebop title from his 1 946 big band book, Tadd Dameron's "Our Delight," then displays his precocious emotional maturity on a heartfelt "Stairway to the Stars."
Nicholas Payton (b. 1973) comes from one of New Orleans' great musical families, and is another young master who began to attract attention while still in high school. While he spent two years as musical director for Elvin Jones and has also collaborated with many of jazz's leading modernists, Payton has also regularly proclaimed his love of Louis Armstrong and cut one of his most memorable recordings in partnership with the late Doc Cheatham. Payton's attitude is distinctly more contemporary on his contributions herein - a reading of the exquisite, seldom-tackled ballad "Violets for Your Furs" (recalling another version of the song by another of Brown's brass-playing buddies, the late cornetist Nat Adderley) and a charge through Joe Henderson's blues "The Kicker" that concludes with crackling Payton-Riggins fireworks.
Ray Brown is one musician who brings a clear sense of purpose to every musical encounter. These diverse trumpet-and-rhythm tracks bear the mark of his firm yet flexible guiding hand. While they are one more indication of the exalted company he keeps, they also confirm that those fortunate enough to play with Brown - after his nearly six decades as a musical giant - consider him a friend indeed.
- Bob Blumenthal