Perhaps one of the reasons for the decline in jazz as a popular music is that the listening experience should be live. Its life force rarely transfers itself through the recording process. In the studio, where actions are inscribed in permanence, artists require take after take to “make it perfect.” But jazz isn’t about perfect, or permanence for that matter. Live jazz offers the opportunity for risks and rewards, interaction, and inspiration. Once and a while, a recorded live date accurately captures the magic of the live moment. This date recorded live in September 1999 at a coffeehouse does, and Ray Brown’s Trio is certainly good till the last drop.
Bassist Ray Brown was brought up in the age of Bebop, working with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Bud Powell. He was the timekeeper of choice for Oscar Peterson’s famed trio and since has led his own bands recording fine discs for Telarc. His trio finds Geoff Keezer taking over the piano seat long held by Benny Green. Where Green was a direct disciple of Oscar Peterson, Keezer sounds as if influenced by equal parts Duke Ellington, Ahmad Jamal, and Tommy Flanagan. Drummer Karriem Riggins joined Brown on The Very Tall Band recording with Milt Jackson and Oscar Peterson.
Brown’s mission to keep the flame of jazz burning is admirable. Although he is in his mid-seventies, his live dates like this one are anything but de-caf. The disc opens with “Up There” (as in tempo) and barely lets up, except for ballads. He takes Ellington’s “Love You Madly” on solo with a thump-thump intro into a swinging melody. Brown also displays his gutbucket blues roots on “Starbucks Blues,” played with Keezer strumming the insides of his piano. Keezer then takes the blues over for a two-handed moving conclusion. With Riggins, the band has the thrills of the old Peterson days, but the focus is spread more evenly between the parts. I continue to be impressed by Keezer’s touch. On his solo dates he has ventured into post-bop constructions with mixed results. His strengths are definitely swing and a contrasting ability to fashion thoughtful ballads. Just thirty years old, he has plenty of time to develop his many talents. The space he is given in Brown’s trio should yield valuable results.
The trio absolutely smokes through Ellington and Tadd Dameron. They fashion a Caribbean feel on “Brown Bossa” and remember the saxophonist Lester Young on “Lester Leaps In.” The appreciative crowd adds positive energy to what is already a near perfect live date.