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The final weekend of the month is normally a “down” week for me, but when events beyond my control kept me from writing this review last weekend, I promised that I would have it for you this weekend.

It almost did not happen, and here I am uploading it at almost the very last minute, but the promised review is here! 🙂

The work of the late bassist Ray Brown is no stranger to this blog. I have written about two of his albums previously, in JFASN #103 and #119. He was also a sideman on other artist’s albums I’ve discussed, here, here, here, here, and, last but not least, here.

If all that gives you the impression I like the man’s work, you’re right. Of course, it’s hard for a non-musician to really appreciate the contributions made by bass players. More often than not, the bass player is buried in the mix, present but at a level just barely above the lower limit of human hearing. We often find ourselves enjoying the fruits of his labor by knowing that without him, a great song we enjoy listening to would be far less great were it not for his influence.

So here I am, coming before you once more to discuss a superb album from the man who was the epitome of bass players, Ray Brown. I am running very short on time (surprise!), so please refer to the previous reviews for more biographical information.

The Ray Brown album I want to discuss was recorded live on September 22 and 23, 1999, in, of all places, a Starbucks in Seattle, Washington. The album is, fittingly enough, called “Ray Brown Live At Starbucks.”

The Ray Brown Trio Live At Starbucks (Recorded in 1992 but released in 2000)

The Ray Brown Trio Live At Starbucks (Recorded in 1992 but released in 2000)

The personnel for this one were:

Ray Brown, bass
Geoff Keezer, piano
Karriem Riggins, drums

“Live At Starbucks” gives us eleven songs, three of which are Brown’s originals. These include the closing track, which he cleverly named “Starbuck’s Blues.” More about that one later.

Most of Brown’s albums are dominated by the pianist, for reasons I’ve already mention. This one is no exception, and the opening song is a tour de force for pianist Keezer. That would be the Brown original, “Up There,” no doubt chosen as the opener to let the audience know they were in for a wild experience right off the bat.

Judge for yourself:

Skipping ahead a ways we come to Tad Dameron’s “Our Delight.” This song has been pleasing audiences ever since Dameron wrote it in 1947, and Brown and the boys take this one to the limit. You can only envy those lucky Seattleites who were present that day, who can be heard expressing their pleasure more than once.

About halfway through the album, Brown gives us a mini-retrospective of Duke Ellington, consisting of three songs culled from Ellington’s vast legacy. The first is “Main Stem,” followed by “Love You Madly” and closing with “Caravan.” “Main Stem” is a wild ride to rival anything you’ve heard before. “Love You Madly” is just the opposite, giving us Brown soloing his way through it for two and a half minutes. “Caravan” slowly builds the tempo again, though not quite to the level of “Main Stem.”

The penultimate offering is Lester Young’s classic, “Lester Leaps In.” The whole idea of live music is to excite the audience and get them involved, sometimes whether they want to be or not. “Lester Leaps In” is one of those songs that reaches out and grabs you by the lapels and yells “You will LIKE ME!” The caffeine-stoked audience at Starbucks did, and I think you will also.

Here are the boys doing “Lester Leaps In”:

The set closes with the aforementioned Brown original, “Starbucks Blues.” When he announces the title, the audience laughs in surprise, but as soon as he begins plucking that big bass the room goes quiet. For almost three minutes we are treated to Brown soloing, showing us what a lone bass player can do. Then Keezer and Riggins join in and together, the trio makes this what Will Friedwald, writing in the liner notes, calls “a long, slow, sexy blues to sink your teeth into.” I can’t say it any better than that.

You already know this but I am going to say it anyway: I am confident that “The Ray Brown Trio Live At Starbucks” will make a fantastic addition to your personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night.

To learn more about the late great Ray Brown and his music, pleases refer to the links in my previous reviews of his work noted at the beginning of this article.

Thanks for reading this.

Al Evans
Wood Village, Oregon

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