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Ray Marchica: In the Ring

John Kelman By

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You have to admire itinerant working musicians who manage to put together fresh sounding recording dates that show their broader interests, while at the same time taking care of business. Ray Marchica was the house drummer for the Rosie O'Donnell Show for six years, but while that may have been his bread and butter, he's also been pushing forward with his own career. In the Ring, the followup to his debut, A Different View, doesn't exactly push any boundaries or stretch any limits, but this energetic mainstream date shows Marchica is more than just a capable session player.

Returning from A Different View is guitarist Rodney Jones, an underappreciated straight-ahead guitarist who has worked with artists including Lena Horne, Dizzy Gillespie, and Jimmy McGriff. Fleshing out the quartet are bassist Lonnie Plaxico, who's worked with everyone from Jack DeJohnette to Art Blakey, Cassandra Wilson, and Steve Coleman; and tenor saxophonist Teodross Avery, who has seemed on the verge of a major breakthrough more than once, but has never quite made the leap.

Despite their relative youth, these players are remarkably seasoned in a variety of styles, and it shows on In the Ring, which Marchica says is meant to reproduce the live experience, with more room to stretch out than his first effort. They tackle a number of standards, as well as two tunes each by Jones and Marchica.

Mainstream doesn't mean uninventive, and from the opening salvo of Charlie Parker's "Billy's Bounce, where Avery plays the theme straight while the rest of the quartet hits offbeat accents and Jones reharmonizes, it's clear that everyone is going for broke. Avery's solo is reverential yet wholly contemporary, fiery without losing site of the tune's core. Jones is as comfortable with brisk chordal passages as he is lithe single note lines, while Plaxico's inherent flexibility and Marchica's powerful yet always melodic approach work well, whether in accompaniment or solo contexts.

"Tequila has been covered far too often, but this quartet turns it into a soulful, funky romp where Jones' chordal skills are once again on display. Plaxico's almost Jaco-esque 16th note foundation and Marchica's unassailable groove makes the tune fun without the usual tongue-in-cheek shtick. Marchica's own compositions range from the blues-based fast swing of "9H5 to the Elvin Jones triplet feel of the modal "The Joneses, which refers to both Elvin and Rodney. Jones' two compositions include the open-ended "Journey's End, with its relaxed yet somehow insistent feel, and the mid-tempo post bop tune "Minor Mishap.

The studio can sometimes be a cold place, making it difficult to achieve the kind of "in the zone group feel that happens more naturally in a live context, but Marchica and the quartet manage to give In the Ring the true spirit of what jazz should be about—open ears, open minds, and, despite its placement in a mainstream context, a distinct element of risk.

Visit Ray Marchica on the web.


Track Listing: Billy's Bounce; Worm; Tequila; 9H5; Journey's End; The Joneses; Minor Mishap; I Can't Get Started; Summertime

Personnel: Ray Marchica (drums); Rodney Jones (guitar); Lonnie Plaxico (bass); Teodross Avery (tenor saxophone)

Title: In the Ring | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Sons of Sound

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