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George Brett, former infielder for the Kansas City Royals once said that he wanted to end his career with a ground out to first base. He reasoned that this ground out best represented what most often happened when the bat hit the ball. If this reasoning can be extrapolated to the late Ray Brown and his recordings, then what Mr. Brown spent most of his time doing was making sublime music. I do not think that Ray Brown, Monty Alexander, Russell Malone is qualitatively or quantitatively different from his previous Telarc or Concord recordings. All are typically very fine examples of the art of the jazz piano trio save for the fact that all are bass-led recording sessions. On a Ray Brown recording, that was always the case. His steady hand and perfect time stamped his music with an indelible mark that could not be mistaken for anyone else. His arrangements always featured himself, but not at the expense of the other trio players.
I have always considered Monty Alexander and Gene Harris to be the most perfect pianists for a Ray Brown Trio. Brown always used fully two-fisted pianists with superb left hands and an immediate grasp of the blues. Alexander certainly fits the bill. Brown also includes Russell Malone here on guitar completing what we have come to expect from Ray Brown, a thoroughly cohesive and empathetic jazz trio sans a drummer. The piano-guitar-bass organization provides for a more quite and intimate sound, one that is in abundance of the current recording.
The disc opens with a plaintive "Django," carefully introduced by Alexander with classical flourishes that honor the late composer John Lewis. Brown propels the piece following the introduction is a steady, mid-tempo swing. Malone provides 1920s era rhythm before his introspective solo. And so goes one more Ray Brown recording...unfortunately the last one. The longest piece on the recording is the gently rhythmic "Fly Me To the Moon," clocking in at just over eight minutes. This is plenty of time for everyone to stretch out, including Brown, who does so with such certainty that his tone is all but impenetrable.
The blues shows up in the form of Brown’s own "Blues for Junior," which showcases the fact that Malone can play dirty as well as sweet. Brown recalls Dexter Gordon and Milt Jackson with "Dexter’s Dex" and "Compassion," respectively. Alexander and Malone provide provocative originals to close the recording. All of the music was played as we have come to expect, impeccably.
Brown died in his sleep July 2, 2002 in Indianapolis, Indiana while on tour, a journeyman musician to the end. His likes will be no more.
Track Listing: Django; Fly Me To The Moon; Blues For Junior; Honeysuckle Rose; Compassion; Dexter