Ray Brown’s Great Big Band – Kayak – Brown Cats Productions BC 9506, 64:50 ****:
This Ray Brown is not THE Ray Brown. This Ray Brown is an arranger, composer, and formerly trumpet player in the Stan Kenton Band of the early 1970s. In his latest iteration, he leads the Great Big Band through an album of jazz and popular standards all of which he arranged for this nineteen piece aggregation, most of whom are musicians from the San Francisco Bay area. There had been a sixteen year hiatus since the band’s previous release.
The arrangements Brown has provided for the band are tight and replete with ensemble voicings that are in some ways similar to those penned by Rob Mc Connell for The Boss Brass. The first two tracks “So In Love” and “Indian Summer” are primarily showcases for altoist Mary Fettig, but on the latter tune, Brown’s brother Steve on guitar shares the spotlight. “Love” seems to be a theme that plays an important role in Brown’s arranging, since in addition to the previously mentioned track, he gives voice to three other tunes that focus on love:”I Fall In Love Too Easily”, ”Our Love Is Here To Stay” and ” I’ve Never Been In Love Before”. Of these tunes the middle composition was given the most meaning and arranging attention as it is dedicated to his deceased older brother Glenn. On the latter tune, singer Gail Dobson supplied an uninspired vocal.
There is some scintillating playing on those arrangements that might be classified as jazz compositions. On Frank Rosolino’s “Blue Daniel“ the five-person trombone section delivers a unison voice that gives this jazz waltz some verve. On the insightful and stylish Bill Evans composition “Turn Out The Stars,” pianist Eddie Mendenhall gives an evocation of the composer that is skilfully rendered. “Moment’s Notice” is an under-recorded John Coltrane gem on which Bennett Friedman’s tenor sax is forcefully evident. Finally on the Victor Feldman/ Miles Davis classic “Seven Steps To Heaven,” Charlie McCarthy on tenor, Don Beck on trumpet, and drummer Steve Houghton drive the tune along.
This is a refreshing and engaging big band deserving of wider attention.
TrackList: So In Love; Indian Summer; Kayak; I Fall In Love Too Easily; Blue Daniel; Del Sasser; Our Love Is Here To Stay; I’ve Never Been In Love Before; Turn Out The Stars; Tricrotism; Moment’s Notice; Song Of No Regrets; Seven Steps To Heaven
A bona fide jazz legend is celebrated with an all-star documentary soundtrack vinyl soundtrack.