March 2003

Ray Brown, Monty Alexander, Russell Malone
Telarc CD-83562
Released: 2002

by John Crossett

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

Ray Brown's recorded legacy reads like a veritable Who’s Who of jazz history. Musicians ranging from Dizzy Gillespie (who gave Brown his first job in New York in 1946) to Sonny Rollins and Oscar Peterson on through many of today's young lions have benefited from the sweet, round, full, steady bass tone and precise timing laid down by Brown. His death on the road in July 2002, while preparing for yet another gig, has robbed us of another of our few remaining links to jazz’s bop past. Yet I doubt that Brown, even had he been able to script it personally, could have chosen a better farewell than the last record he recorded for Telarc, Ray Brown, Monty Alexander, Russell Malone. This disc is a fitting culmination to Brown’s remarkable career.

Ray Brown, Monty Alexander, Russell Malone possesses a lovely mixture of tunes, running the gamut from pure jazz (Milt Jackson’s "Django" and "Compassion," not to mention Dexter Gordon’s "Dexter’s Dex") to standards ("Fly Me To The Moon," "Just Can’t See For Looking," and "Honeysuckle Rose") to compositions by Brown, Alexander, and Malone. All of these numbers possess the spirit, feeling, and that impeccable sense of timing that was Ray Brown’s hallmark.

All three musicians -- Brown on bass, Monty Alexander on piano, and Russell Malone on guitar -- are proven leaders, but each has spent much of his career as an accompanist. That experience is evident in each musician's ability to listen to the others, pick up on what they’re doing, and join in.

There's a nice mixture of tempos here. Brown always tended toward the subtle touch, as opposed to the pyrotechnic gesture, in his playing, but, as he showed here, he could get up and boogie when called upon. For example, listen to how well he controls the tempo of "Django" (not surprisingly, considering that he was a founding member of the Modern Jazz Quartet). Or marvel at the quickness and dexterity he displayed in "Dexter’s Dex."

As far as the sound is concerned, Telarc has come up with yet another winner in its recent string of superb DSD recordings. You hear three distinct musicians, each occupying his own acoustic space. Brown’s bass is deep, full, and appropriately woody, Malone’s guitar sounds like the hollowbody electric that it is, and Alexander’s piano has the size and heft of the real thing. Nor are these sonic glories confined to a boxy space in one channel.

Ray Brown may no longer shuffle among us on this mortal coil, but his recorded legacy is still with us, still making music for our enjoyment. Appropriately, his last recording, showcases everything that was Ray Brown. It was with something of a heavy heart that I began listening to this disc, but with each passing note my sadness lifted, replaced by the joy that comes from listening to a master craftsman at work. And that, I feel, would have pleased Ray Brown. Pick up a copy of Ray Brown, Monty Alexander, Russell Malone and experience the man's pure essence. As long as we can treasure recordings such as this one, he will never be truly gone.