Ray Blue – Work – Jazzheads JH1235 64:12****
Ray Blue is a tenor saxophonist with a big tone with a pleasant-sounding and satisfying approach to the music he plays. He has engaged a coterie of top flight musicians to deliver a straight-ahead release on the Jazzheads label appropriately called Work.
In this thirteen track outing, there are a couple or three originals from the leader, along with an abundance of American standards, plus some underperformed jazz songs by well known names. All in all there are compositions that should suit everyone’s taste.
The session starts with the title track “Work” which is propelled with a reggae beat that is infectious. Blue sails over the rhythmic undercurrents filled with a depth of tone and feeling. Pianist Sharp Radway adds his own brief but nimble solo to the process.
Exuberance is the order of the day on “Lift Every Voice And Sing”. Although this is the shortest track on the disc, there is some up tempo harmonization between Blue and guitarist Jeff Barone which gives the number some driving swing.
Trumpeter Nat Adderley wrote a number of well-known jazz compositions including Work Song, Sermonette, and Jazz Samba. He also wrote the lesser known “Sweet Emma” which Blue along with trombonist Ron Wilkins dive into here in gutsy fashion. With a jazz soul feel, the two front line players drive home the composition in satisfying style.
Throughout this nifty release, Blue and his band have clearly put together a set that has broad appeal. He has included a double header offering of the well-known Bob Hayes/Alan Brandt number “That’s All”. The first version has Benito Gonzalez on piano as Blue explores the number in ballad fashion before it jumps into a slightly up tempo romp. Gonzalez’s solo interlude is thoughtful as well as elegant. The other interpretation is a duo effort with Blue and Kirk Lightsey on piano. This is a more oblique rendition of the tune with each player seeking original ways to define the number.
A couple of other tracks worth exploring are the Matt Dennis/Tom Adair standard “Everything Happens To Me” and Ray Blue’s own tune “Attitude”. Normally the first number is done as a ballad as it is generally performed as a vocal. However, Blue and the band have decided that they will up the tempo. After a lovely opening with Blue playing over drummer Steve Johns, the band settles into a solid groove with pianist Sharp Redway in strong form.
Finally on Blue’s original, the band swings along forcefully, and although Blue takes the up bulk of the solo space with long structured melodic lines, both pianist Redway and guitarist Barone acquit themselves with some tastefully expressive solos.
Ray Blue – saxophone; Sharp Radway – piano; Jeff Barone – guitar; Essiet Okon Essiet – bass; Steve Johns – drums; Guests: Kirk Lightsey – piano #8,13; Benito Gonzalez – piano #3,5; Ron Wilkins – trombone #4,6,7; Belden Bullock – bass #8; Neil Clark – percussion #1,6,9
Lift Every Voice And Sing
My Friend And I Took A Walk
Amsterdam After Dark
Teach Me Tonight
Don’t Know Why
Our Day Will Come
Everything Happens To Me
That’s All (duo)