April 2001

Ray Brown Trio -  Live At Starbucks
Telarc CD-83502
Released: 2001

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

[Reviewed on CD]Sometimes it’s easy to overlook Ray Brown. Although he's been playing jazz for almost 60 years, he's the opposite of self-promoting. He just consistently plays bass that makes all the musicians around him sound better. But even that consistent excellence has worked against him -- what else would we expect from Ray Brown?

Telarc remembers Ray Brown. And they’re doing everything possible to make sure that we don’t forget either. Live At Starbucks, a trio session featuring Brown with pianist Geoff Keezer and drummer Karriem Riggins, should become another brick in the recorded monument to a true jazz legend.

Live At Starbucks is a superb album. Trio albums can be hard to get right, many feature the pianist (or main soloist) with the bass and drums merely in a supportive role. Only a handful of trio albums cast all three participants equally in the music making. Probably the benchmarks for that type of small group interaction are the two Bill Evans albums Sunday At The Village Vanguard and Waltz For Debby, wherein Evans, bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motion set the standard for trio interplay so high that it became almost impossible for others to reach those exalted heights. I would also add any of the Oscar Peterson trio albums (featuring Brown), Sonny Rollins Live At The Village Vanguard and the two recent Lee Konitz/Brad Mehldau/Charlie Haden Blue Note discs to that short list.

On Live At Starbucks, the members of the trio work together musically, interacting and supporting each other. Brown’s name may be on the front cover, but this is definitely not just a "Ray Brown" album. These men think in terms of the group, not the individual, which makes for a much more enjoyable listening experience.

But don’t think for a minute that this is merely a technical exercise in trio play. No, Brown, Keezer and Riggins show passion, humor and audience interaction in spades here. Listen to Brown as he announces "Starbucks Blues," or catch the insertion of a quote from "My Favorite Things" into Duke Ellington’s "Caravan." I was also struck by the call and response of the bass and piano in the opening of "Lester Leaps In" and the way Riggins dances on his cymbals during the tune without ever seeming to overpower Brown or Keezer.

The sound of Live At Starbucks is equal to the music. This is another in what is becoming a long line of fabulous Telarc DSD recordings. Brown’s bass is full, deep and appropriately wooden. Yet you still get the full dynamic effect of his plucking and bowing on the strings, something not often heard to good effect on CD. Riggins' drums have snap and weight, and his cymbals shimmer with that burnished brass sound you would hear live. Keezer’s piano has the heft and clarity one has come to expect from Telarc, too. And check out the soundstage, which is wide and deep. The musicians are arrayed from speaker to speaker, but when the audience applauds, the width extends to the listening room’s walls. When Brown gives the patrons the news about that final track, "Starbucks Blues," the response he receives is so well-recorded that you’ll feel as if you’re sitting in the middle of the crowd.

Live At Starbucks is a winner. It combines all the elements that a good trio session should have together with superb sound. Ray Brown still knows what it takes to make good music -- and he's the master at involving his listeners in it. This one’s a keeper.