21 August 2008

Under the Radar: Genious + Soul = Jazz

Ray Charles

Supergroups rarely live up to expectations. For every Blind Faith, there are about ten Journeys (I still can't believe half that band was in Santana). So it is always a pleasant surprise when an all-star grouping lives up to expectations. Such is the case with Genius + Soul = Jazz, a collaboration between Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, and the Count Basie band. The album features Charles on the Hammond B-3 organ backed alternately by the Count Basie band (sans Basie) and by another group featuring Clark Terry, Budd Johnson, and Roy Haynes, among others. With charts arranged by Quincy Jones (who at that point was one of the key arrangers for Basie's "New Testament" band) and Ralph Burns (who cut his teeth writing arrangements for Woddy Herman's band), Charles was set up with some of the strongest personalities in jazz backing him on the album.

Genius + Soul = Jazz does not disappoint. The tracks with the Basie band swing hard, and the familiar comping of Freddie Green on guitar more than makes up for the abscence of Basie's piano. The other band also holds its own against Charles strong organ playing. Though he made a name for himself playing R&B, Charles had the chops to play jazz, and demonstrates his ability to the fullest on the album. "One Mint Julep," a song originally recorded by The Clovers, is a highlight, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart in 1961, the year the album was released. Like many of the tracks on the album, "One Mint Julep" is an instrumental, allowing Charles to show off his organ chops. The tune blurs the line between jazz and R&B, in the vein of Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder" or Cannonball Adderley's "Work Song." It is solid, workmanlike jazz with a driving pulse and memorable melody.

Also notable is "I'm Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town,"a slow-burning blues sung by Charles. Unlik much of his R&B vocals, Charles is subdued here, singing in almost a whisper. The effect is intriguing. We're used to hearing very powerful singers with the Basie band, think of Joe Williams or Jimmy Rushing. But Charles' soft timbre also works quite well against the Basie band, adding nuance to the band's famously powerful sense of swing. Charles also adds a heightened sense of drama to the tune by laying back.

While Genius + Soul = Jazz will not make many desert island lists, it is nonetheless a thoroughly entertaining album featuring a few of the most distinctive and soulful voices of jazz.

Track Listing: From the Heart; I've Got News for You Alfred; Moanin'; Let's Go; One Mint Julep; I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town; Stompin' Room Only; Mister C.; Strike Up the Band; Birth of the Blues; Alabamy Bound; Basin Street Blues; New York's My Home

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