Ray Blue "Work" CD Release Concert

CD Review: “Work” – the Newest Effort by Ray Blue

Ray BlueArtist: Ray Blue
Title: Work
Label: Jazzheads
Genre: jazz

Review bt Dawoud Kringle

MFM member Ray Blue has been an important saxophonist for the past 20 years, leading his own CDs on a regular basis since 2001.

A sample of those whom Blue shared the stage and studio as a leader, a sideman and a band member with include John Gilmore, Dr. Art Davis, Benny Powell, Eddie Henderson, Kirk Lightsey, Charlie Persip Super Band, Clifford Adams, Wycliff Gordon, Bernard Purdie, Steve Turre, Ted Curson, Joe Lee Wilson, Alicia Keys, The Sun Ra Arkestra, and The Cotton Club All Stars. He was also a cast member of the “Ray Charles Show.” He appeared at jazz festivals throughout the US, Europe Africa, and China. Blue is an influential educator, and founded Cross-Cultural Connection, Inc. a non-profit organization that promotes jazz culture, performance and education.

Work is Blue’s newest release as a leader. He is joined by pianists Sharp Radway, Kirk Lightsey and Benito Gonzalez (yes; three pianists), guitarist Jeff Barone, bassist Essiet Okon Essiet, drummer Steve Johns, trombonist Ron Wilkins, and percussionist Neil Clark.

A lively drum and percussion is soon joined by the bass. Blue’s mellow and inviting saxophone enters and establishes the release’s title track “Work.” Somehow, shades of Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas’ seem to blend with a playful Caribbean mood, seasoned with an indefinable flavor of Gospel. Blue doesn’t assault the listener with a display of chops, and doesn’t have to. The beauty of the melody, and the indisputable sincerity of his approach are more than enough to bring this song to life.

The following track, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” contrasts with its predecessor. It starts with an almost Coltrane infused urgency. Then Blue’s relaxed sense of melody brings in the classic song, and after making its simple yet powerful statement, the piano brings it to a dreamy conclusion.

“My Friend and I Took a Walk” and “That’s All” both showcase Blue’s (by now obvious) mastery of the melodic statement. The ensemble as a whole, with Blue’s saxophone standing at the forefront, paint an almost cinematic picture of city nights, jazz cafes, and lovers walking hand in hand through streets wet with recent rain.

His cover of Jimmy Smith “Mellow Mood” has a slightly uncharacteristic aggressiveness compared to the preceding tracks. Here, Blue and the guys decide to come out swinging a bit. But nothing is overstated, nothing is overdone, and there is no sense of showboating. Blue has nothing to prove; he knows his craft. In fact, his cover of George Coleman’s “Amsterdam After Dark” puts a decided period at the end of that sentence. The piece is a poetic masterpiece of the music world Blue holds court in.

The entire release is a delight to listen too. Blue and the ensemble are all very well suited to the music. They know this vibe very well. Blue’s choice of covers veers away from the standards most others cover; he brings lesser known pieces to the forefront and brings them to life. This album is a classic example of pure jazz – without the pomposity of being purist. If you wish to hear the the real essence of classic jazz treated as a new and living tradition, you’d be hard pressed to find a better choice than Work.