RHINO RECORDS / ATLANTIC 18th June 2021
An album that is simultaneously just a good outing for masters of their game and a rarity. Ray Charles is known now for his rhythm and blues but was an accomplished all rounder and released jazz albums alongside hit pop singles. Milt Jackson is best known for the vibraphone and that’s an obscure instrument today. What makes this a rarity is the maestros picking up other instruments. So, on the title track, Milt plays piano (normally ray’s instrument) and Ray plays sax.
It all works very nicely, with a four piece stack of sidemen. The style is bluesy bop and there is a pronounced lack of showboating. No wailing sax wig-outs, no jumping on the piano keys. The band focus on interplay and creating well-knitted pieces. A single LP from 1958, this has just five tracks, running from five up to ten minutes and parts are interchanged in a respectful way, with solid backing to each solo. On How Long Blues, both Jackson and Charles take turns on the piano and Charles alternates sax parts with Billy Mitchell from the band, while the introduction is an exposition in the vibraphone from Jackson.
Flip to side two and tom-toms set a speedy pace, vibraphone picks it up and Billy Mitchell shows where it could go with sax before Ray Charles tugs, plays and jazzes up the show. Blues Funk is a slow mood piece which serves as a backdrop to virtuoso vibes and some excellent bass soloing. Bag’s Guitar Blues (Bag’s is Jackson’s nickname) sees him close out on bubbling guitar while Charles is on piano through the well-behaved shuffle. I should mention that this is on Atlantic, due probably to Ahmet Ertegun’s excellent taste, and on lovely heavy vinyl with those extensive sleevenotes that often filled the back of a 12”. I particularly like the way they keep referring to the vibraharp, one of the many alternative names for Milt’s instrument.
This is a mono release, on vinyl, and differs in one track from the stereo release for some reason. Long out of print, I’d picked up the stereo version on one of those questionable sets issued where copyright has lapsed. It makes for a great late-night set, full of thought and patience, instruments pulling at threads in the fabric of the tune and making ripples in the attentive mind.