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In the Ring by Ray Marchica

While on a break from Miles Davis in 1957, Paul Chambers assembled a quartet of several favorite musicians to play several of his favorite tunes (mainstream then, classic now). The resulting record was called Bass on Top. First-class drummer Ray Marchica has done the same thing and may as well have called it Drums on Top. But he didn't because it's not a funny play-on-words like Chamber's. Marchica went for the sparring metaphor instead, called it In the Ring, and packaged it with cool halftone boxing poster-art.

On his way to becoming a passionate professional, Marchica studied percussion under Morris Long, recorded with James Brown and Little Richard, and toured with Roy Buchanan and Johnny Winter. As the house drummer for Rosie O'Donnell's hit TV show, he performed with many superstars including Tony Bennett, Cher, Bette Midler, Neil Diamond, and Phil Collins. NYC theater experience includes major on-and-off-Broadway musicals and a two year stint as house drummer for the Radio City Music Hall. Considering that he is one of the hardest working drummers in the jazziest of cities, it's a wonder Marchica even has time to record gems like In the Ring.

Each song showcases Marchica's drums, but not to an obsessive extent. Solo devices like this encourage players to strut their stuff on a variety of familiar styles and techniques. Such records can be fun for musicians and listeners, but side-effects include a lack of cohesion or true innovation. That said, this piano-less trio record features many strong performances by musicians at the peak of their powers: Rodney Jones on guitar (Chico Hamilton, Dizzy Gillespie, Lena Horne, Hank Jones, Ann Hampton Calloway, Kenny Burrell), Lonnie Plaxico on bass (Chet Baker, Sonny Stitt, Junior Cook, Wynton Marsalis, Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, and the whole M-Base movement), and Teodross Avery on tenor saxophone (attended Berklee, studied under Joe Henderson, played with Carl Allen, diverse session player and promising young leader).

A reinterpretation of "Billy's Bounce," a Charlie Parker bop standard, sets the tone for more old and new standards. The project ends with two very different Gershwin covers; the inventive and upbeat "Summertime" is a definite high point. Leave 'em wanting more, right? The project was self-produced by Ray Marchica and engineered by Michael Brorby at Acoustic Recording in Brooklyn. Together, they achieved the delicate balance of complete spontaneous takes within a controlled studio environment.

When an experienced sideman matures into a leader, it's always interesting to hear how they define jazz. Ray Marchica clearly believes it should be focused, funky, and fun. Recommended listening.

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