(Ruby Braff, Cornet; Scott Hamilton, Tenor Sax; Gray Sargent, Guitar;
Dave McKenna, Piano; Marshall Woods, bass; Chuck Riggs, Drums)
Arbors Records has done mainstream and revival jazz fans a real service by continuing to bring out previously unreleased material from the prolific Ruby Braff. Though Ruby suffered from emphysema throughout the last decade of his life-he passed away in 2003-he continued to play and record till the end of his career.
This November 1993 session recorded live at the Regattabar in the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, Mass, has the added benefit for Braff fans of adding an all-star line-up of session mates including Scott Hamilton, Dave McKenna, and Gray Sargent, all of whom have their own large discographies as band leaders on their own accord. Having Hamilton to trade choruses with amps up the excitement, and Gray Sargent on guitar adds a light balance to the heat the two horns bring to the hotter numbers.
As expected with any Arbors Braff release, the song selection is high class. The CD starts with Cole Porter’s It’s All Right With Me, with Scott and Ruby having a lively conversation before Ruby solos. Bassist Marshall Wood gets a nice chorus of his own and Grey Sargent has his own tasty solo. It’s no wonder that Tony Bennett chose Sargent this past summer when Bennett did his countrywide tour, as Sargent’s accompaniment is always impeccable.
Ain’t Misbehavin gets the Braff treatment next, as Ruby is so comfortable in an Armstrong mood. The same can be said for Pennies From Heaven, which also features the great piano touch of Dave McKenna. Dave gets plenty of room to stretch out as this track approaches ten minutes. Next up is an Ellington medley of In a Sentimental Mood and I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good. The former is taken at a ballad pace with Hamilton taking a pensive solo. The latter tune of the medley picks up the pace with solos by all the band members with the highlights in my mind being those by Sargent and McKenna.
Swinging on a Star, the Burke/Van Heusen chestnut, swings hard and gives McKenna the opportunity to play some stride piano, his specialty. These Foolish Things features Scott Hamilton in fine ballad form, matching Ruby’s own warm timbre. McKenna also gets some more relaxed runs.
The CD is concluded with three more standards – If You Were Mine, Them There Eyes, and On the Sunny Side of the Street. Gray Sargent takes honors on the first. Them There Eyes is a burner with Ruby getting several hot choruses with Hamilton keeping pace. On the Sunny Side of the Street closes out the festivities – helped by brief solos from each band member.
This issue, Vol. 2, is a nice follow-up to the earlier issue of Vol. 1, which was chosen as the Best Jazz Record of 1995 by the jazz critics of Jazz Journal International. Let’s hope that Arbors finds a few more Braff sessions to release posthumously.
— Jeff Krow