Ray Brown brought his world famous stand-up-and-snap-out-a-heartbeat bass sound and his trio to St. Paul’s Dakota Club this past week. This is the Ray Brown of more classic jazz recordings than most of us will ever hear. Ray Brown, who was part of bop’s innovations with Charlie Parker to Dizzy Glimpse to Ella Fitzgerald to Oscar Peterson. Surrounded by an accompaniment of piano (Benny Green) and drums (Gregory Hutchinson), a jazz icon provided a great evening of acoustic jazz in an excellent setting.
Benny Green filled the spaces in the upper register with originality, emotion, and incredible energy. From the up-tempo opening to moody ballads, Green was up to the challenge of playing with a jazz great. Considering Brown’s history of piano alliances, that is an accomplishment. He might be one, himself. Some of his chords were so massive I wanted to check his hands for extra fingers.
Gregory Hutchinson’s eight piece trap set produced a spectrum of percussive timbers. He fit his sound and style into the songs and added impact and rhythm to every piano and bass note. The percussion based “Remember” got a little over extended and Hutchinson appeared almost embarrassed during the traditional drum solo. Hutchinson seemed to be a lot more comfortable in his usual role of providing a solid background for the two melodic instruments.
Brown has made a career of being part of unusual, creative, beautiful music. Many well known instrumentalists design their sets around showcasing their own playing. Ray Brown is touring with a group that showcases compositions. He proved to the Dakota crowd that he has a lot material to highlight and he left us all with the knowledge that we had been part of something rare.
Brown makes an effort to surround himself with talented, young players. With the attention record companies and the music media have slobbered on high profile pop styles, even the jazz genres, you have to wonder what inspires young men to play this kind of music? These guys could play any style they choose, so why do they choose acoustic jazz? When you see these musicians in person, it becomes clear as glass. You can see it in their faces and hear it in their music. It isn’t about fame and fortune, it’s about respect for art and skill and a mutual respect between the artist and the audience.
There isn’t a better place to see this kind of music in the Twin Cities. The Dakota provides a great view of a fine stage with a professional sound system. Throw in good food and area microbrewery products on tap, and you have a great place to avoid the cold. If you are a fan of great jazz, you’ll become a fan of the Dakota.