Ray Brown (1926-2002) played the bass the same way he lived: with style, a peerless vivacity and a boundless generosity of spirit. Unlike most bass players, when Brown was at the helm the listener always had the sense of his being a true leader, not merely a timekeeper and occasional soloist. The final testament to his brilliance is Walk On , a two-disc set featuring his last studio recordings, with pianist Geoffrey Keezer and drummer Karriem Riggins and previously unreleased live recordings.
Brown's arrangement of "America the Beautiful" leads off the first disc, beginning with a somber plucked statement by Brown, gently accompanied by Keezer, which quickly evolves into a samba rhythm that places this secondary national anthem squarely on foreign soil, proving that what's solemn can swing. "Sunday" is in the great tradition of the Oscar Peterson Trio records, an on-point arrangement executed with an interplay approaching telepathy. Fats Waller's "Honeysuckle Rose" is a carefree walk in the park, with Brown and Keezer engaging in a sweet counterpoint dialogue while Riggins whispers on brushes in the background.
The old head even shows that he can hang with the young folks on the bodaciously funky "You Are My Sunshine," where he plucks wickedly throughout and practically sings through his instrument. The eponymous "Ray Brown Suite" is a rich three- movement exploration of various musical styles within the jazz idiom, including swing, classical, blues and waltz, wonderfully articulated by Keezer's flowing lines and Riggins' sparkling drum work. And while Brown could play pizzicato with anyone, he shows on his own "Hello Girls" that his bowing was just as formidable.
Although the second disc includes traditional rhythm section cuts, the primary focus is on the bass as a prime mover, courtesy of Brown, John Clayton and Christian McBride, three generations of walkers. This trio plucks and bows wonderfully through live performances of classics such as Monk's "Evidence" and Ellington's "In A Mellow Tone"; originals by Brown ("Much In Common") and Clayton ("Three By Four"); and the traditional "Down by the Riverside."
These moments, especially from the Boston shows, are lively and dynamic and the band plays with enthusiasm and a grinning sense of humor. Brown is front and center throughout, energizing the audience and spurring on his fellow bassists all the way to the final arco flourish. Walk On is a fitting epitaph for a luminous, irreplaceable talent who is deeply missed.
Disc One: America the Beautiful; Sunday; Stella By Starlight; Lined with a Groove; Honeysuckle Rose; Fried Pies; You are My Sunshine; That's All' MVT I; MVT II' MVT III; Hello Girls Disc Two: F.S.R.; Stardust; Evidence; Woogie Boogie; In a Mellow Tone; The Nearness of You; Much in Common; This is Always; Three by Four; Down by the Riverside
Ray Brown (bass); Geoffrey Keezer (piano), Karriem Riggins (drums) With special guests: Monty Alexander (piano), Benny Green (piano), John Clayton (bass), Christian McBride (bass), Gregory Hutchinson (drums), Lewis Nash (drums)