About a year ago I reviewed a tribute to Ray Charles that was a train wreck from the start. The focus of the release was placed squarely on the arrangements with the complete presentation of the tune best described as some sort of sonic after thought.
Consider this the flip side.
There is a more laid back feel to this release then one would normally expect. Those familiar with Rotondi who is a fixture on the New York scene may expect something with a little more bite. Rotondi is backed with what is the current Mike LeDonne quintet with the end result being a unique jazz interpretation of a soul/blue mix with Rotondi leading the charge. What works so well is that the heads are delivered straight without any unnecessary embellishments or self indulgent arrangement that could easily derail such a stellar recording. "What'd I Say" is brimming with a deceptively subtle syncopated pop led my Hammond B-3 star Mike LeDonne. Rotondi's solo is clean, clear and swings like a beast. Peter Bernstein delivers a crisp angular single note solo again a groove you can use. The finesse of drummer Joe Farnsworth along with the lyrical soul of Eric Alexander lets the listener know this is indeed a musical celebration. "Cry Me A River" is re harmonized but with more of a swing feel and Rotondi does a magnificent job directing traffic on this gem. Solid contributions from guitarist Bernstein along with a slightly more aggressive approach from Alexander seem built around Rotondi's talents. Mike LeDonne showcases his own versatility on the B-3 and is pure flavor on "Cry Me A River." The joy of Ray Charles on stage was always apparent and the vibrant swing of "One Mint Julep" is indeed a fitting tribute to one of the finest entertainers ever. Alexander's tenor solo never loses the key element of a lyrical sense of purpose which you find throughout this stellar release. "Georgia" even gets a face lift for the more straight ahead jazz aficionado. Rotondi makes this work when a lesser talent may have fallen flat. An amazing transformation that was a huge roll of the dice pays off big here.
Ray Charles was Jim Rontondi's former boss and musical mentor. Blues For Brother Ray is an absolutely stellar recording of one of the better trumpet players you may not necessarily be familiar with backed by one of the hottest 4tets working today. All the stars were in perfect alignment for this recording. This is one of those releases you can play for the person that is intimidated by jazz and the immediate response will be, "I don't like jazz but I sure like that!"
An absolute must for any library!
Tracks: What'd I Say; Baby It's Cold Outside; Brother Ray; Cry Me A River; One Mint Julep; Makin' Whoopee; Lonely Avenue; Georgia.
Personnel: Jim Rotondi: trumpet; Mike LeDonne: hammond b-3 organ; Eric Alexander: tenor saxophone; Peter Bernstein: guitar; Joe Farnsworth: drums.