Sun Ray – A Tribute to Ray Bryant – Lenny Marcus Trio and friends (self-produced) LJM 019, 55:23 ****:
(Lenny Marcus – piano; Rick Eckberg – bass; Larry Scott – drums; Cyrus Pace – guitar; Tom Artwick – sax, flute; Scott Walker – trumpet, flugelhorn; Vladimir Espinosa congas, percussion; Peter Ingram – drums 3/6; John Brown – bass 3/6)
Ray Bryant has always been one of my favorite pianists. He first came to my attention on a cold winter’s day in 1957 in Ottawa Canada, when he was part of a traveling jazz show called Cavalcade of Jazz that featured The Ted Heath Band from the UK, the Hi-Los, and Carmen McRae – whose backup trio was directed by Bryant. So it was with some degree of anticipation but trepidation that I listened to the Lenny Marcus Trio tribute to Ray Bryant entitled Sun Ray. Fortunately this offering is consistently imaginative and is scattered with wonderfully emotional musical references to Ray Bryant, who died in June 2011.
Lenny Marcus’ homage to the pianist comes from the heart as Bryant was his first piano teacher, his mentor and friend. Opening with a Bryant original tune “Blues For Norine,” Marcus shows the Bryant influence with his two-handed approach and affection for the blues expression. Continuing with “Cubano Chant” the group expands to include Tom Artwick on flute which gives the appropriate Latin flavor to piece. On the title track “Sun Ray,” which is a Marcus composition, he looks to develop the Bryant sound but has his own contagious style. Perhaps one of his other tunes: “Threesome” captures this more succinctly as it swings effortlessly.
The inclusion of the Buffy Sainte-Marie tune “Until It’s Time For You To Go” is a bit of a mystery as it was not part of Bryant’s repertoire. While it is pleasantly rendered it seems out of context and is the only false note on the disc. “After Hours” which was a notable track on the Dizzy Gillespie album Sonny Side Up on which Bryant captured the spirit of a slow drag blues, Marcus pays a fitting tribute in his own version of this piece. Another gem is Bryant’s “Stick With It” wherein both Marcus and guitarist Cyrus Pace find their groove and give the tune a rocking bluesy reading. The disc closes with what many consider Bryant’s signature tune: “Little Suzie”. This is a blues on which Marcus shows a firm touch and deft left hand very much in the Bryant tradition.
This disc is an inventive offering, self-produced by Lenny Marcus without the benefit of a wider distribution that a major jazz label could deliver. That’s too bad because he deserves a broader audience.
TrackList: Blues For Norine; Cubano Chant; Sun Ray; Gotta Travel On; Minor Trouble; Threesome; Until It’s Time For You To Go; Downside Up; After Hours; Hot Turkey; Stick With It; The Early Years; Sneaking Around; Little Suzie
A Texas singer-songwriter’s legend lives on with this journey of personal discovery and anecdotal cleverness.