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In the very near future, you’re going to hear a lot of the Ray Brown Trio in the Starbucks nearest you. That’s because the renowned coffee shop has elevated its interest in jazz from the realm of background music to CD production. No doubt, you’ll be able to buy Ray Brown Trio: Live At Starbucks with your cappucino in city, airport and suburban mall coffeeshops nationwide. Maybe what Ken Burns Jazz did for Wynton Marsalis’ public profile, Starbucks will do for Ray Brown’s. Or so one would hope.
If so, that would be a good thing.
For Ray Brown Trio: Live At Starbucks is truly a distinctive jazz trio CD. If Starbucks is going to establish a jazz ambiance within its premises, then it might as well promote one of the true legends of the genre...and expose customers to the highest quality of music.
According to the liner notes, Brown, Keezer and Riggins mixed with the guests before the performanceand of course drank the venue’s dark and pungent brewin the center of the coffee universe, the Starbucks store at 23rd and Jackson in Seattle.
Maybe it was the cameraderie. Maybe it was dampness of the Seattle climate. Maybe it was the caffeine. Whatever it was, Ray Brown Trio: Live At Starbucks delivers one of those performances wherein everything clicks: The audience is tuned in to the jazz, and the musicians are in a groove that lasts throughout every number.
The CD starts with one of Brown’s compositions, “Up There,” which describes the pace of the tune, as all three musicians commence to thrill the crowd at the drop of a hat. Each of the three trades measures to introduce themselves. Keezer takes the theme beyond its head-bobbing call-and-response nature into bass-clef rumblings. Riggins is right on with his crisp hi-hat work and his melodic approach to taking the trades. And Brown pushes his own group with his full-bodied pulse and confident mastery of the music developed from a lifetime of legendary performances.
Ray Brown Trio: Live At Starbucks ends with another of Brown’s compositions tooappropriately enough, “Starbucks Blues.” I’ll listen for it the next time I need a fresh cup to wake me up some sleepy morning. Now that will capture my attention! Starting out with one of Brown’s inimitable bass solos, rumbling and strolling and beseeching for two and a half minutes, eventually his blues settles down into a 6/8 evocation more of a swaying “The St. Louis Blues” than a jazz blues.
However, it’s the middle of the CD that makes Ray Brown Trio: Live At Starbucks one that an enthusiast of Brown’s music should buy anywhere that good music is sold: coffee shop, music store, department store, bookstore, wherever. Keezer’s work on Duke Ellington’s “Mainstem” captures the audience’s imagination from the very beginningand the tune continues to develop an increasingly irresistable groove as Riggins makes known the high degree of his talent as well, cymbals a-shiver and bass drums a-rumble. “Mainstem” leads into the ominous throb starting “Love You Madly,” which turns out to be a Ray Brown solo, his jaunty development of the tune inspiring finger snapping from Keezer and Riggins. “Caravan” follows the lead of Keezer’s middle- and lower-register vamp to deliver Brown’s bow work before the trio takes off in a bright 4/4 flight. As if wowing the crowd with a tremendous interpretation of the song weren’t enough, Keezer throws in everything from rapid stride references to “My Favorite Things” to clavé to Tynerisms.
Drawing in the crowd with the appeal of the ballad, Keezer develops “This House Is Empty Now” as a rubato vehicle of arpeggiated flow and gorgeous modulations before settling into the rhythm of “I Should Care,” where Brown and Riggins join in with a quarter-noted swing. J. J. Johnson’s exquisite ballad, “Lament,” receives similar treatment, Brown in this case substituting for Keezer in the introduction. As one of tunes deserving much more attention and airplay, its inspiring changes suggesting an infinite number of interpretations, “Lament” receives an underplayed rendition without undue drama but with the confident respect that is its due.
Keezer and Riggins were subordinated on Brown’s last CD, Ray Brown: Some Of My Best Friends Are...The Trumpet Players because of its concentration on guests like Clark Terry and Roy Hargrove. However, Ray Brown Trio: Live At Starbucks makes it known that his trio is one that deserves the highest degree of attention. The CD proves that Keezer, in particular, keeps growing and developing a deeper talent of greater technical sophistication. And one would hope that the CD proves that coffee drinkers of the world will have an appetite for great jazz.
Track Listing: Up There, When I Fall In Love, Brown Bossa, Our Delight, Lament, Mainstem, Love You Madly, Caravan, This House Is Empty/I Should Care, Lester Leaps In, Starbucks Blues
Personnel: Ray Brown, bass; Geoff Keezer, piano; Karriem Riggins, drums
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.