Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Ray Brown Trio at Starbucks

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


Before the music begins, Ray Brown, Geoff Keezer and Karriem Riggins blend into the crowd, sipping freshly pressed coffee, chatting about the day's events. The Starbucks store at 23rd and Jackson—a corner that was once the heart of the Seattle jazz world— is the scene of this landmark event, the first live recording at Starbucks. Ray Brown's presence here pays homage to past history and sets a trend for future events.

As he picks up his bass, a hush settles on the crowd, and the first rich tones of his music signal the start of a vital, inspiring musical experience. The musician and his instrument become one, transporting us to another world where rhythm and melody are all-engrossing.

Jazz bonds this room into a musical community that leans together toward the stage as if we could touch the sounds pulsing around us. The lines between musicians blur as the audience claps along, nods and calls out encouragement. There can be no reserve, no room for cool detachment. The music itself demands to be revelled in.

I’m not certain of the exact dates that the version Ray Brown Trio that featured pianist Geoff Keezer and drummer Karriem Riggins was in existence, but I am certain that I never got to see and hear them in person, to which I can only add - Bummer!

Of course, Bassist Brown’s piano-bass-drums trio credentials are legendary and date back to when drummer Ed Thigpen was added to pianist Oscar Peterson’s Trio in the late 1950s.

Along the way, various iterations of Ray’s trio included pianist Phineas Newborn, Jr., Gene Harris, and Benny Green and drummers Jimmy Smith, Jeff Hamilton and Gregory Hutchinson, all of whom I did see and hear in performance.

Messers Keezer and Riggins are prime examples of the explosive virtuosity today’s younger generation of Jazz musicians.

And while their technical wizardry is awe inspiring, you can hear in their playing that they are bringing the tradition along with them

And what better representative of the modern Jazz “tradition” can these guys have as a mentor than Ray Brown who has played with all the greats from his generation. Ray was 73 years old at the time of this recording, but he more than held his own with these two, young powerhouse players.

At times these generational forces combine to create a music on this recording that almost sounds operatic in terms of its sweeping intensity, bold textures and awesome displays of musicianship of the highest order.

Here are Will Friedwald’s insert annotations about the musicians and the music on Ray brown Trio - Live at Starbucks [Telarc CD 83502] after which you’ll find an audio-only Soundcloud File and a YouTube video montage to help you sample some of the music from this recording.

“Perhaps it's instructive to lay out first what the Ray Brown-Geoff Keezer-Karriem Riggins Trio is not. For starters, it's not your average jazz piano trio in which the pianist is the star and the bass and drums mere sidemen. And for all of Brown's virtuosity, it's not a unit designed to showcase a series of bass solos by the leader. It is a group where, as great as the individual members are, the collective is everything, and strong as the solos may be, it's the interplay between the three individuals that makes the whole thing work.

Brown bookends this set with two samples of the blues, the fast Up There (the title referring to the tempo) and Starbucks Blues, a Brown original. The latter, closing item reminds us how infrequently the slow blues form is heard in contemporary jazz. You still hear blues changes used as the basis for a swinging uptempo, which has been a tradition since the birth of jazz,
But lately musicians seem to be avoiding the blues in slow tempos. You have to be a true blues virtuoso to want to confront that kind of playing head-on, which is exactly what Brown is, and why "Starbucks Blues" works so well. Here's a long, slow, sexy blues to sink your chops into.

Brown's other original is titled Brown Bossa. While the title suggests that this may well be Brown’s answer to Kenny Dorham's Brazilian-influenced jazz classic Blue Bossa, the rhythms of the piece are more island than South American in nature and may suggest to some ears "Brown Calypso" as a better title. The piano textures on this catchy item are also at times suggestive of the great Cuban keyboardists — Brown Rhumba anybody?

The use of original material by jazz musicians has probably become too much of a good thing in recent years; almost every new album consists primarily of new compositions, the majority of which are rarely as memorable as we'd like them to be. But when Brown gives over valuable space on one of his CDs to new music, you know the melodies are going to be well worth it. The bulk of the program consists of jazz standards, like When I Fall in Love and I Should Care  both part of the jazz repertoire for so long it's easy to forget they weren't written by true jazzmen.

When I Fall in Love rates a funky, soulful treatment, as if it were When I Fall in Love Blues, which puts listeners in mind of Brown's considerable experience with pianist Gene Harris of Three Sounds fame. There's a cascading piano-drum crescendo that serves as the bridge between the melody and the piano solo that's bound to grab your attention. Keezer is so committed to the glory of interplay that he even engages in it by himself— initiating a one man call-and-response pattern. Keezer's other opportunity for play is his rubato feature, This House is Empty Now, which introduces the better known, I Should Care (in ballad time for the first chorus, swinging lightly in the second). Riggins' chance comes with his particularly zesty arumming on Our Delight, one of the major early bop gems. And the title fits the mood in Lament (remembered from Miles Davis' Miles Ahead), which ranks as one of jazz's most melancholy lamentations of the '50s.

Each of the three Duke Ellington delights, as interpreted here, has something to say about the nature of inter-relationships. For all the intricacy of much of Ellington's music, Mainstem has always been one of the Duke's most celebrated blowing vehicles, a minimal melody and a welcome excuse for protracted jamming. Brown gets most of the main melody on both Love You Madly and Caravan. Kicking off with an imposing introduction, Brown phrases "Madly" almost as if it were countermelody to Dave Brubeck's famous Ellington homage, The Duke. Then, on Caravan, the leader uses his bow to extract the full exotic effect of Juan Tizol's classic desert drama. Ray Brown is the only bassist to record a full-length album with Ellington himself at the piano - one of many indications that Brown is the heir apparent to Jimmy Blanton, the short lived father of modern jazz bassistry.

This suite of three Ellington classics shows that, although Brown never played in the Maestro's band, his roots in Ellingtonia run deep. From blues to jazz to pop to Ellington standards (he was indeed a category all to himself), Brown, Keezer and Riggins need only one more ingredient to cover all the jazz bases. They find it with Lester Young's classic, Lester Leaps In, one of the heavy duty anthems of the swing era. Again, the interplay's the thing here. Riggins' drumming seems more like dancing — it's an interesting kind of partner routine that he does with Keezer. Rather than dancing simultaneously, like most couples, they do their steps in turns, first one and then the other. Throughout the performance all three musicians create this dance, sprinkling their craftsmanship with elements of play, melding their talents into a solid trio. But don't forget that this is Ray Brown's trio. And he brings to the group his own infusion of energy and enthusiasm that makes us all thrill in the music.”


No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave your comments here. Thank you.