Review by sibelius2 October 6, 2012 (4 of 4 found this review helpful)
|One of the strangest and most fascinating recordings I've heard.
For one thing, the title really doesn't prepare listeners for what they're about to hear. I was completely unfamiliar with this album before acquiring this SACD. So yes, it's a jazz album, and yes, Ray Charles performs on every track, but that only tells a fraction of the full story.
The biggest surprise for me was the fact that six of the ten tracks feature what can simply be described as the 1960 vintage Count Basie Orchestra minus the Count. There is no acoustic piano at all, in fact, as Charles plays organ on all tracks. The other four tracks also feature a big band, although it is clear from the personnel listing that this other band was more a collection of studio musicians, many of whom (such as Clark Terry, Urbie Green, and Jimmy Cleveland) I recognize as being favorite sidemen of Quincy Jones. Arrangements are evenly divided between Jones and Ralph Burns.
The second biggest surprise was the fact that only two tracks have vocals. So it is truly a big band album, rather than a famous-singer-with-big-band-accompaniment album. Charles contributes three original compositions (still arranged by either Jones or Burns) but even those are all instrumentals. Still, Charles makes the most of his turns at the mic, especially bringing out the humor in the lyrics of "I've Got News For You." Nearly all other tracks feature organ lead and/or solos.
Sonics on this release are something of a mixed bag. It's a splendid opportunity to hear the (mostly) Count Basie orchestra at the height of its powers in SACD quality sound. The stereo imaging is very effective, with brass far left, Freddie Green's guitar center-left, organ and bass center, saxes and Sonny Payne's drums far right. Bass sound is both thick and well defined without ever getting boomy.
But the sound quality does not hold to this high standard throughout. Some (not all) brass solos were recorded way too hot with considerable distortion. The organ (identified as a Hammond in the liner notes) sounds thin compared to what I'm used to hearing from Jimmy Smith on Blue Note and other labels on the same model instrument. Most curious of all, Charles' voice seems thin and lightweight compared to what I had expected. I even pulled out my RBCD of "The Genius Hits the Road" recorded less than a year earlier, just to confirm that I wasn't imagining things.
Still, this is a strong artistic success from an unexpected combination of musicians.
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