The passing of Ray Brown, unexpected as it was (while he was on tour in Indianapolis), created an outpouring of sorrow and many words of appreciation, both spoken and written. Having been involved in some of jazz’s greatest recording sessions throughout over a half a century, Brown is remembered by his musical associates as much for his warmth, sense of humor and generosity as for his musical contributions. However, listeners and admirers of his work have only his music to go by, not having the good fortune of knowing him, as did John Clayton, who writes movingly about his mentor and friend in the liner notes to Walk On: The Final Ray Brown Trio Recording.
Fortunately, Telarc had been recording Brown since 1988, and the label retained some unreleased tracks in its vaults. To commemorate Brown’s influence and the exceptional music that he recorded on Telarc, Walk On
includes Brown’s last trio recording, one with Geoffrey Keezer, who happened to turn in his notice the week of the recording in January, 2000. So, the first CD of this 2-CD set is doubly significant, and the trio, which included drummer Karriem Riggins as well, was right on as always with its ability to connect with an audience.
The first track, recorded before 9/11 provided the tune with more profound significance, starts with Brown’s evocative solo introduction of "America the Beautiful," clearly stated and suggestive. But of course, Brown’s vision of American the beautiful is a joyous one, untainted by 9/11 grief at that point, and the trio doesn’t take long to move into a fast-paced straightahead interpretation of the tune. Just as appropriately, Brown ends the 2 hours of performances with a gospel quote and an "Amen," to the audience’s delight.
Other highlights of the release include some of Ray Brown’s original compositions, which he premiered during the trio session, including his own "Ray Brown Suite," which features the empathy of the trio as much as Brown’s individual artistry. For "MVT. II" of the "Suite" starts with Keezer’s shimmering assertion before a the bluesy main theme. Brown’s "Hello Girl," not consisting of the expected flirtatiousness suggested by its title, instead is a slowly unfolding melody that Brown bows with from-the-heart outpouring feeling before Keezer reveals the gorgeous melody.
The second disk, containing unreleased material as well, comes from several sessions from 1994 and 1996. The 1996 session, in particular, offers some real delights as it was performed live at the DoubleTree Guest Suite Hotel in Boston, and thus involves the reactions of a live audience. Bringing back the on-the-corner spirit of fun that we heard on the Super Bass
CD’s, those tracks involve the interplay of 3 like-minded bassists, Brown, Clayton and Christian McBride. In addition, we get to hear some of Brown’s work once again with 2 of his other pianists who performed so well with him: Benny Green and Monty Alexander.
As newly released tracks that Brown’s many enthusiasts might otherwise never have heard, those on Walk On: The Final Ray Brown Trio Recording
remind us of Ray Brown’s mastery of the bass. But more importantly the humanity that allowed his music to connect with listeners around the world from the year that World War Two ended until the second year of the new millennium.