Staying young by working with the young, Ray Brown and cohorts Benny Green (piano) and Greg Hutchinson (drums) layed down a set of jazz and pop standards at a club in a Boston DoubleTree Hotel. Though Brown is the leader and anchor of the date, quite obviously the pianist is going to dominate the act - and Green definitely puts on a show, wiping everyone out with the pyrotechnics of "You're My Everything," engaging in a gentle stride opening to "But Not for Me" and coming logically to a bombastic climax. Hutchinson is capable, swinging, and occasionally volatile, and Brown mostly steps back and gives these guys a firm underpinning, with a sly solo now and then ("Bye, Bye Blackbird." There are few surprises or deviations from the mainstream here, but a good time will be had by anyone who gives this a spin.
- Richard S. Ginell (All Music Guide)
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One of the beautiful ways we as humans show maturity and growth is in how we stand in a spotlight. When we're young we desperately need attention at center stage, and if it means showboating or speaking louder or other garish displays, we do those things because they're necessary for our sense of self. But as we age and become more confident with just who we are and what we've accomplished, we can, hopefully, generously and with assurance give the room and space to others without any loss of our own individuality or distinct personality. It's truly revelatory to see this process in people, because it also shows us what we ourselves can become.
Musicians who choose the performing life act out this process before the public - in person or on record - and it is a quietly breathtaking experience for an audience to watch artists grow in this way. Since Louis Armstrong first made jazz a soloist's art, the individual's statement has tended to be more dazzling and exploratory, and thus the link to that spotlight must be harder to break. So it is even more amazing to see a modern jazz musician fully grow into the music, making all his personal expression an organic part of a larger whole.
As witness by the performance recorded here-and in fact by all he does-Ray Brown has magnificently mastered this maturation process and become a jazz Everyman who still says as much or more than anyone. Of course one might make the case that as a bass player Ray had to learn from the start to make his voice a more supportive and quiet one, and there's some truth to that. But Ray Brown was always a player with his own personality, backing some of the greatest names in music but always in such a way that you always knew he was there and you wanted to hear what he had to say. So it's a nice surprise to know that this master, after years of playing and leading his own groups, has managed to put everything he does at the service of greater communication.
The Ray Brown Trio has become one of the most emotionally rewarding and entertaining working groups in all of jazz. Mr. Brown is clearly the leader - and as a mentor, as a rock-solid foundation, and as the senior member of the group he has given his young partners focus, direction, and somehow even greater freedom. But in so doing he has ably presented an unselfish personality that means that he has earned the role of leader. And what he has given has helped his sidemen towards that greater development as mature players.
From his earliest days as Betty Carter's pianist, Benny Green demonstrated dazzling, show-stopping virtuosity at the keyboard. Work with the Ray Brown Trio, however, has defined and directed his technique, rounding out and synthesizing the way he holds attention. On Bye Bye Blackbird, for example, it's certain he begins with a notion of the classic Red Garland performance from the Miles Davis days, but he transforms the bravura of that recording and even the knock-'em-dead approach of some of his own work into a more rich understanding of the song and how to tell its story with other players at your side.
Gregory Hutchinson began his musical career as one of the "young lions," next to such current raves as Christian McBride, and thus he was thrust into a spotlight in which his volcanic drumming was broadly evident. He's always seemed to have a full command of his instrument but his work in this splendid trio seems to have given birth to a more complete range of expressive capability. On the gently pulsing En Estate, his subtle presence says as much about the song and its feeling as can be expressed by any instrument. And in combination with the dark but vitally immediate sounds of the Brown bass, and the sensitive lyricism of the pianist, he is able to beautifully urge the music forward.
The Ray Brown Trio performances are a finely drawn mix of incisive and thoughtful improvising and crowd-pleasing virtuosity. As a member of the classic Oscar Peterson trios, Ray seems to have learned how best to affect that blend and really make it work. The choice of tunes and Ray's arrangements here are further evidence of Ray's unselfishness - he gives himself to the richness of the standard and jazz repertoire. Mr. Brown is a leader, but these are true group performances with each member helping to give them shape.
- Donald Elfman