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I might have completely written this disc off as simply another anemic adult contemporary offering for the Rippingtons/Shadowfax lemmings had I not made it five tracks deep to the title cut. There I found the greasy guitar-organ funk running deep. "The Walkup" has an insistent groove established by guitarist and leader Jeff Ray and maintained by bassist Darryl Hall. Drummer Victor Wise provides the song its underpinning and Aaron Swinn adds the fat calories with his salt pork B3. This groove is maintained through the atmospheric reggae of "Wise Ton J," which is an introspective urban tome elevated by Shinn’s superb organ playing and Ray’s tremolo-saturated wah.
That said, the disc required further fair evaluation from the bottom up. An Ohio State scholarship football player who majored in music, Ray attended Rutgers for graduate studies with Kenny Barron and Ted Dunbar. Then he moved to Harlem.
It was in this New York City community that Ray’s chops took shape and his musical direction became clear. "The Walkup" is the ten blocks between Ray’s Sugarhill home and a Harlem jazz hotspot. It was in these climes that Jeff Ray assimilated the sophisticated urban grit that gives his music that necessary edginess, that thing that raises this music above fray.
Add to this Ray’s choice for keyboards. Aaron Shinn plays the Hammond B3 and Fender Rhodes piano, both with equally competent facility. The Rhodes is full-bodied, filling in all of the crags and spaces with jewels. His solos on both the opener "Streams" and "Hoodwink" are extended clinics on the Fender Rhodes after Miles Davis. This recording is comprised of eight tunes, all over five minutes long. Full of James Brown and Solomon Burke, The Walkup is a head-bobbing experience from beginning to end.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.