If only the rest of us could find overlooked valuables tucked away in closets and cabinets as efficiently and nonchalantly as can Ray Bryant. But then, the rest of us don't have Ray Bryant's talent, his worldwide performing schedule or his modesty. Such quiet modesty led Bryant to tuck away the performance tapes that recording engineers have given him over the years until a less-modest Joel Dorn discovered the cache. Since that discovery, a rediscovery of Ray Bryant's prolific career has been undertaken, and rightly so. With workmanlike dedication and personalized talent, somewhat in the same vein as Hank Jones, Bryant's aggressive approach to the piano and his laid-back in-person demeanor combine to establish a style that remains unmatched after almost 50 years.
The latest in what could be called The Ray Bryant Rediscovery Series is North Of The Border, a live performance at Toronto's Montreal Jazz Bistro in 1997. Well-known Canadian jazz radio announcer Ted O'Reilly broadcast the event four years ago, but now the rest of the world can hear it as well.
Recording only when it's personally satisfying, Bryant accepted the gig in Montreal, not as a solo performance like the one on Somewhere In France, but accompanied by his regular back-up musicians Harry Anderson and Winard Harper.
Bryant starts the recording with his well-remembered and always-enjoyed composition "Slow Freight," a brief hit in the 1960's. And yes, Bryant does pick up speed from a rolling start as he adds yet another tune to the jazz repertoire of tunes (most notably Ellington's) dedicated to the sounds of trains. "Django," the next tune, gradually develops from a rubato introduction into the moderate swing made famous by John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet. Instead, though, Bryant emphasizes the classical nature of the tune, as he does in Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma." Rather than viewing "Con Alma" initially from a Latin perspective, Bryant delves into its harmonic potential as he substitutes chords to present the tunes more as a German lied than a jazz standard.
Referring to some of his work with Miles Davis, Bryant expressively develops "Nardis" in such a way to emphasize the half-tone resolution at the end of the chorus, not to mention the minor-keyed ominous atmosphere the tune creates. Bryant performs his own approach to ballads as well on "Good Morning Heartache" and "When Sunny Gets Blue," the staggering of the beat and the arpeggiation characteristically his.
Catching Ray Bryant in concert is a rare treat any more; he performs only several times a year. However, the fact that Label M has access to Bryant's lode of cassettes must mean that Bryant's discography will keep growing, whether he enters a studio again or not. Let's hope that it continues to grow.
And let's hope he does future studio recordings as well. There can never be enough of Ray Bryant.
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