Brown/Alexander/Griffin/Drew: Summer Wind

Rob Mariani By

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This is a collaboration of giants who swing so hard and with such incomparable assuredness that you simply cannot sit still when they are playing. And it all starts with Ray Brown. His huge, woody double-bass sound is unmistakable, as is his impeccable time feeling. So much has been written about this incredible musician; on this particular CD he lives up to every one of his greatest accolades. Ray Brown defines swinging in 4/4 time and will always be one of the quintessential voices of jazz.

Monty Alexander's dazzling piano technique is equally definitive. But his playing is never just about speed or dexterity—both of which he has in abundance. Alexander's solos are magnificently shaped and crafted and full of exciting, spontaneous ideas.

Listening to his huge vocabulary of notes on an up-tempo tune like the opening "Blues For Groundhog, I was reminded of a criticism that Miles Davis is alleged to have made about Oscar Peterson, another keyboard dazzler: "He doesn't leave anything out. Indeed, Alexander is every bit as ornate and facile as O.P.—and of course, we know Miles was just talking about the type of accompaniment he prefers. But like Peterson, Alexander is a joy to listen to, simply because he can and does play with such a full palette of notes. His exuberance is irresistible.

As an accompanist, Alexander is as driving and compelling as Brown. And the absolutely precise and unfussy time feeling drummer Martin Drew adds to the mix results in a rousing juggernaut of a rhythm section that might intimidate a lesser virtuoso than "The Little Giant, Mr. Johnny Griffin on tenor. Griffin, of course, fits into virtually any jazz context. When I first heard him live with the Thelonious Monk Quartet at the old New York Five Spot, I was certain he had been born to play in Monk's spare, minimalist context. But he sounds just as right against the complex and tightly structured rhythm section on this session. His ideas are always delightfully musical, and no, Miles, he doesn't "leave anything out either. It's pretty much wall-to-wall notes on every one of the tunes here. The ideas just keep on coming.

The one cut where everyone eases off a little in terms of complexity is the bluesy Ray Charles composition "Hard Times. Alexander decided to sing this one, and it's perhaps not the strongest point of the set; but it's short and sweet and fun to hear his voice and phrasing just kind of tossed off with no pretense about his singing debut.

There's a wonderful alternate take on "Put your Little Foot with just Griffin and Brown, two masters at the top of their game playing a fun, relaxed little ditty, taking it places it's never been. "Summerwind is the kind of jazz that even non-jazz lovers will find enjoyable because it embraces the listener with a seductive rhythmic and musical warmth.

Recorded back in 1980, this session will sound just as good and as swinging a hundred years from now.

Track Listing: Blues For Groundhogs; Thanks For The Memory; Medley; Hard Times; Put Your Little Foot Right Out; Woogie Boogie; Consider; Street Life; Swamp Fire; Summerwind; Griff And Me; Delaunay's Dilemma.

Personnel: Ray Brown (bass); Monty Alexander (vocals, piano); Johnny Griffin (saxophone); Martin Drew (drums).

Title: Summer Wind | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Kingston Records


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