During his creative peak in the late '50s and early '60s, Ray Charles put his soulful imprint on virtually every genre of American popular music. After he laid the foundation for the future of soul with his seminal Atlantic albums, and just before he bridged the gap between rhythm 'n' blues and country with "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music," Charles also recorded a series of often overlooked instrumental jazz albums. The most blisteringly soulful of these jazz records, "Genius+Soul=Jazz," has just been reissued by Rhino, along with several of Charles' other classic Atlantic and ABC-Paramount albums, in honor of his 50th anniversary as a recording artist.
Originally released in 1961 on Impulse!, ABC's brand new jazz subsidiary, "Genius+Soul=Jazz" showcases Charles on the Hammond organ backed alternately by the complete Basie big band (minus Basie) and an all star band including such notables as Clark Terry, Joe Wilder, Budd Johnson, and Roy Haynes. If Ray Charles plus the Basie band (plus arrangements by Quincy Jones and Ralph Burns) sounds like it would make for a remarkably swinging affair, the results do not disappoint. Charles could hold his own with any of the day's top jazz organists and each of the two ensembles is in fine, full-throttle form. Among the highlights is an incredibly hip version of the Clovers' 1952 R&B hit "One Mint Julip," which some may recognize as the music from a recent television commercial that featured animated beatniks drinking a bottled coffee beverage. Also of note is a solid rendition of Bobby Timmons' "Moanin'," which may fall short of the 1958 Jazz Messengers recording, but only because it lacks the incendiary trumpet of Lee Morgan. The two vocals on the album, both hard-bitten blues, "I've Got News for You" and "I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town," remind listeners, in case one could somehow forget, that there is no voice in any musical genre as soulful as Ray Charles.
Also included on the CD is a bonus album, "My Kind of Jazz," recorded with a big band in 1970. This effort features Charles at the piano running through some of the better known jazz hits of recent years. Most effective are versions of such standards as Horace Silver's "Senor Blues," Lee Morgan's "Sidewinder," Benny Golson's "I Remember Clifford," and Bobby Timmons' "This Here." Although not as explosive as the "Genius" album, "My Kind of Jazz" certainly makes the case for Charles as a first rate soul-jazz instrumentalist, with the emphasis always on soul.