Audiophile re-mastered vinyl showcases instrumental prowess of America’s greatest singer!
Ray Charles – The Genius After Hours – Atlantic 1369 (1961)/Speakers Corner (2016) 180-gram mono vinyl, 38:30 ****1/2:
(Ray Charles – piano; David “Fathead” Newman – alto saxophone, tenor saxophone; Emmott Bennios – baritone saxophone; Joseph Bridgewater – trumpet; John Hunt – trumpet; Roosevelt Sheffield – double bass; Oscar Pettiford – double bass; Joe Harris – drums; William Peebles – drums)
Ray Charles is such an iconic artist that he is simply known as Ray. He was hugely responsible for bringing R & B into the mainstream culture. More importantly, he crossed over to jazz, rock and country and western with spectacular results. Though he downplayed the “genius” moniker, none other than Frank Sinatra referred to him as the only living musical genius. Billy Joel intoned that he was more influential than Elvis Presley (in contrast to most of the rock and roll establishment). He was the anchor at Atlantic Records in the 50’s and early 60’s with hits like “I Got A Woman”. Ray not only headlined shows at African-American theaters like the Apollo, but was able to play at prestigious mainstream nightclubs and concert halls. Charles left Atlantic for ABC Records and negotiated an unprecedented contract that included ownership of all master tapes.
There was no leveling off of Ray Charles’ popularity. It would have been easy for this artist to maintain his stardom and gospel-based r & b prominence. But the greatest singer in the 2nd half of the 20th Century would have no part of that. Modern Sounds In Country Music and Modern Sounds In Country Music Vol. 2 merged soul and country into re-invigorated pop brilliance. Songs like “Georgia On My Mind’ and “I Can’t Stop Loving You” are forever identified with RC. Whether he cover Beatles songs (“Yesterday”, “Eleanor Rigby”) or patriotic material (“America The Beautiful”), the results were transformative. Even with a commercial decline in the 70’s and early 80’s, Ray Charles re-emerged with chart-busting duet releases. Every artist, regardless of genre, wanted to record with him. He may have been the greatest American musician, ever!
Ray Charles’ exceptional musical acuity was multi-faceted. So it is no surprise that there is a traditional jazz recording at Atlantic that showcased the hard bop stylings that existed in the late 1950’s. The Genius After Hours was a quasi-spontaneous post-concert session that featured a variety of session players, including Oscar Pettiford (double bass), David “Fathead” Newman (saxophone), Joe Harris (drums), Joseph Bridgewater (trumpet) and others. Utilizing both trio and septet ( the latter arranged by friend and collaborator Quincy Jones), these players interact with cohesive integrity. The opening title track is as advertised, late night blues. With a classic piano trio format, Ray delivers a dizzying combination of jazzy chords and prominent fingering in a technical display of deft timing. Switching to larger ensemble “Ain’t Misbehavin’” expands on the loping Waller structure with hot licks. David “Fathead” Newman takes the lead with vibrato-laced soulful chops. Charles leads on the 2nd (maybe third) verse with a “clinking” (stellar mono fidelity) piano, maintaining bluesy roots. The group sustains the authenticity of Waller, but with expanded instrumentation. There is a fluid up- tempo transition as Newman joins in the final chorus. A simple trumpet addition adds texture.
The session is heralded by the press notes as a relaxed meeting of “tired” performers. “Dawn Ray” is anything but that. With verve and energy, the trio adopts a finger-snapping arrangement as Ray throws down in classic soul/jazz fashion. There is a nimble double bass solo, that slides into a final syncopated piano run. Winding down Side A, “Joy Ride” is swinging bop heaven. Charles ramps up in unison with horns and reeds. Alto saxophone and muted trumpet solos are followed by Charles’ succinct chording and percolating right hand notation. A catchy alternate exchange with sax and trumpet is compelling before the unison close. Flipping the vinyl disc, “Hornful Soul” draws on a “big band” intro and jaunty funkiness. Ray emphasizes understated Count Basie-like riffs, but always infuses them with signature moments. This is the most extended piano soloing and is impressive.
The only ballad comes from a staple in jazz covers, George Gershwin’s “The Man I Love”. The sole piano-only cut, Ray is faithful to the emotional melancholy of the composition. He maintains delicacy on the chording and re-purposes the tune into an intimate, elegant gospel. A brief tempo uptick near the end is a nice touch. “Charlesville” is steeped in hard bop with a racing double bass and scintillating piano lead. Ray’s swirling techniques are reminiscent of players like Dave Brubeck. Also he initiates a “tinkling” sustain riff that sounds like Jimmy Smith playing the eighty-eights. There is a slight dissonant touch before a rousing finish (replete with a Ray Charles “Yeah!”). In a surprising move, the sanitized Teresa Brewer pop hit “Music Music Music” becomes a medium-swing, bouncy jazz piece.
The Genius After Hours is a quintessential Ray Charles recording. Speakers Corner does a superb job in re-mastering the original analog mono tapes. The pure, un-manipulated sound is expertly mixed. The volumes on the piano are excellent and increase and decrease with seamless agility. The alto saxophone and trumpet are folded in quietly to achieve a mellower tone.
Side A: The Genius After Hours; Ain’t Misbehavin’; Dawn Ray; Joy Ride
Side B: Hornful Soul; The Man I Love; Charlesville; Music, Music, Music