Ray Brown Trio – Summer Wind: Live at the Loa

Ray Brown Trio – Summer Wind: Live at the Loa
[Concord Jazz CCD-4426]

Craig Fitzpatrick

June 2004

Those summer winds are blowing in once again.

During a recent jaunt to Chicago to visit staffers Dave Thomas and Mike Wright, our esteemed publisher Clement Perry talked of how ironic it was that he had left “ … sunny, 78 degree New Jersey just to arrive in cold, rainy Chi-Town”  My immediate thought, being a Chicagoan myself, was that even a “cold, rainy Chi-Town” is still far more appealing than Jersey City on its best day, but I digress. (publisher’s note: I check the weather channel all the time and it is now June and weather in Chi-Town hasn’t gotten much warmer). However, after a cup or two of hot tea, a few hours with some friendly audiophiles, and some great music he quickly warmed up to his surroundings.

One piece of music that can certainly warm anyone up is “Summer Wind: The Ray Brown Trio live at the Loa.” This, simply put, is one CD that any jazz admirer should have in his or her collection. Gene Harris on piano and Jeff Hamilton on drums wonderfully compliment bassist Ray Brown to make this an enjoyable eight track disc that was recorded live at the famous Santa Monica club that he co-owned with fellow musician and partner Herb Ellis. Brown is a great player who has an unselfish style and allows his colleagues to share the spotlight. If one word describes the Ray Brown Trio it is “amalgamation.” Gene Harris, another bandleader, plays a forceful yet seductive piano but knows how to intimately involve the other musicians. And although his tenure as bandleader is not as extensive as that of Brown or Harris, Jeff Hamilton is just as creative and attacks the drums with dynamic precision (Isn’t that the name of a cable company?).

A testament to Brown’s accomplishments is the fact that he has reportedly appeared on over 2000 albums and is one of the most recorded jazz artists of all time. His resume is quite expansive and the list of artists he has performed with reads like a Who’s Who of the jazz community. That list includes the likes of Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson, and Ella Fitzgerald, to whom he was married for four years. His professional career began in the 1940’s with the Dizzy Gillespie/Charlie Parker Quintet. For 18 years he was a key member of the Jazz at the Philharmonic. After many years of playing as a supporting member he decided to start his own trio and in 1984 he placed a phone call to Gene Harris and Jeff Hamilton and the rest is history.

The title track, Summer Wind has an interesting origin. It was originally written by German nationals Heinz Meier and Hans Bradtke and recorded by the Danish singer Grethe Ingerman. Johnny Mercer later composed the English language version and although previously recorded by various artists, the infamous Frank Sinatra made the song an American classic. The Ray Brown Trio’s version is a departure from the traditional arrangement and opens with an upbeat melodic groove, that is both vivid and energetic. On Real Blues (an original composition), Brown plays a dominant bass line that allows you to hear why he is considered a true virtuoso while Harris offers a light, supportive touch on the keys. Hamilton’s ubiquitous, strong play gives this and every other tune on this disc its solid foundation. Lil Darlin’ highlights Harris’ tender yet captivating style, forcing you to recognize that he is truly unparalleled on the piano. On track four, a Duke Ellington classic, ‘It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing’), Hamilton gets his chance to shine as soloist and certainly makes the most of it. His play is both rhythmic and soulful and allowed me to be entertained without becoming fatigued. Track seven, Can’t Help Lovin Dat Man, is one tune that you are sure to enjoy. It is a showcase for Harris and is a classic example of Brown’s generosity with the spotlight. Harris starts softly with Brown providing a slow, deliberate, penetrating performance that simply creates a backdrop for Harris’ vivacious solo. This Oscar Hammerstein original cannot be heard without concluding in applause from the listener and by itself is worth the price of admission.

Unfortunately, at the start of the Millennium, Gene Harris passed away from complications related to kidney failure in Boise, Idaho. Two years later on July 2nd, 2002 Ray Brown also passed away. He had just participated in his favorite pastime outside of jazz, a round of golf. These two jazz legends certainly will be missed. 

The Ray Brown Trio showcases a group of musicians that are playing music that is both inspiring and engaging at a level that only all-stars would be able to achieve. On Summer Wind: Live at the Loa, Brown and company are able to play traditional classics with technical expertise and have fun while doing it. This is certainly one hot production and a gem of a recording for Concord Jazz. While listening try to stay cool! 


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