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With considerable charm and elegance, Jimmy Rowles and Ray Brown breeze through 18 tunes, some standards and some jazz classics and some fairly obscure, without seeming to work up a sweat. These two consummate professionals, revered by fellow musicians, were teamed to produce two Concord albums in the late 1970’s. In spite of the loss of Rowles, Brown’s staying power remains remarkable even until this day as he continues touring and recording with his trio. Brown’s preference for the piano is obvious in Jimmy Rowles/Ray Brown: The Duo Sessions, each musician allowing the other enough space to expand and enjoy the confident development of the tunes.
With compatible attitudes toward the music, and a telepathic understanding of the other’s styleand indeed their personalitiesRowles and Brown pursue their muse and their music as the shared leaders of their group, stepping up front from the accompanist’s role.
While Rowles emphasizes the melodic quality of each tune, never straying too far from the composer’s original concept, Brown creates an easy bounce, his strong lines buoying the tunes.
Both of whom being influenced by Ellington, Rowles and Brown choose one Ellington tune for each of the two albums that comprise this two-CD set: “Sophisticated Lady” on As Good As It Gets and “Come Sunday” from their 1980 album Tasty. In each, both of them combine a sense of drama with the easy movement of the tunes for a deceptive straightforwardness that belies their complexity. “Sophisticated Lady” rolls along as with a comfortable and singable approach, Rowles allowing for bass interludes between measures. “Come Sunday” starts with a dramatic flare, Rowles slowly developing an intro based upon the tune’s last four measures. Eventually, it evolves into a stride-like interpretation.
“I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter” goes for the Fat Waller references throughout the tune, Rowles strolling in stride, his left hand exhibiting a strength that isn’t as obvious in the ballads he plays. Brown also enjoys himself too, connecting the phrases with eighth-note triplets before slowing into a walk. On the As Good As It Gets album, the stride interests are represented by “Like Someone In Love” at a faster tempo than “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down,” permitting Brown to fully develop an inspiring solo combining pulse and humor.
The one original Rowles tune in the compilation, surprisingly, strays from the joyousness of the other music. “Looking Back” meditatively envelopes the listener with attention to a melancholy mood, the minor-keyed melody flowing through occasional Eastern European allusions.
“Manha De Carnaval” would seem to imply an interest in Latin music, and while that was so, Rowles cannily perceives the harmonic richness of the tune and explores it for that value. When Brown joins in after the rubato introduction, sure enough, the two of them develop a swing vamp, subtle and unpretentious, that reveals the tune for its universal musical potential, as would, say “Autumn Leaves” without the Gallic elements.
Perhaps overlooked in recent years as other piano groups have come and gone, the Rowles/Brown duo, short-lived though it might have been in recorded form, fortunately was documented for continued enjoyment and for evidence of the mastery of the instrument that their lives lived in music can create.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.