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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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The Great Ray Charles

Poll Winners Records PWR 27330



1. The Ray

2. My Melancholy Baby

3. Black Coffee

4. There’s No You

5. Doodlin’

6. Sweet Sixteen Bars

7. I Surrender Dear

8. Undecided

9. Dawn Ray

10. The Man I Love

11. Music, Music, Music

12. Hornful Soul

13. Ain’t Misbehavin’

14. Joy Ride

15. Moanin’

16. Strike Up the Band

17. Birth of the Blues

Ray Charles – Piano, organ

Oscar Pettiford – Bass (tracks 3, 9-11)

Joe Harris – Drums (tracks 3, 9-11)

Joe Bridgewater – Trumpet (tracks 1, 2, 4-5, 7, 8, 12, 14)

John Hunt –Trumpet (tracks 1, 2, 4-5, 7, 8, 12-14)

David “Fathead” Newman – Alto sax, tenor sax (tracks 1, 2, 4-5, 7, 8, 12-14)

Emmett Dennis – Baritone sax (tracks 1, 2, 4-5, 7, 8, 12-14)

Roosevelt Sheffield – Bass (tracks 1, 2, 4-5, 7, 8, 12-14)

William Peoples – Drums (tracks 1, 2, 4-5, 7, 8, 12-14)

Phil Guilbeau, Thad Jones, Joe Newman, Clark Terry, Snooky Young – Trumpet (tracks 15-17)

Henry Coker, Urbie Green, Al Grey, Benny Powell – Trombone (tracks 15-17)

Marshall Royal, Frank Wess – Alto sax (tracks 15-17)

Frank Foster, Billy Mitchell – Tenor sax (tracks 15-17)

Charlie Fowlkes – Baritone sax (tracks 15-17)

Freddie Green – Guitar (tracks 15-17)

Eddie Jones – Bass (tracks 15-17)

Sonny Payne – Drums (tracks 15-17)

I thought of Ray Charles primarily as a vocalist until I heard his version of Makin’ Whoopee (a 1965 single which entered the top 50 in the UK as well as the US). Ray took the song unbelievably slowly, extracting its deep irony, especially when he made a sidelong reference to his own personal experiences with the law, which aroused huge laughter from the audience. He sang the song but the main interest for me was his piano accompaniment, which was the essence of the blues and gospel. That characteristic is present throughout this reissue of a 1956 album, in which Ray concentrated on his piano playing and showed that, like his singing, it was the epitome of soul.

On most of the originally released eight tracks Ray is accompanied by a sextet in which the saxophone of David “Fathead” Newman was the outstanding feature. But the essence of Ray’s piano style is clear in a few trio tracks, such as Black Coffee, which he takes at a leisurely tempo (akin to that of Makin’ Whoopee) which perfectly suits his feeling for the blues. You could add vocals by a blues singer on top of this trio track and it would not sound out of place.

This album has the benefit of including all six tracks (tracks 9 to 14) which were recorded at the same time but not included on the original album.Ain’t Misbehavin’ has a remarkably inventive tenor sax solo by David “Fathead” Newman. Tracks 9 to 11 are trio recordings. Dawn Ray and Music, Music, Music are up-tempo cuts which confirm that Charles was a fine swinging jazz player. The Man I Love is another hyper-slow track and a fairly straightforward melodic interpretation.

This reissue adds three final bonus tracks where Ray plays the organ with backing from a big band directed by Quincy Jones. These seem to come from the 1960 album Genius + Soul = Jazz and they reveal that Ray the organist was as soulful as Ray the pianist. The Basie-like accompanying band is very gutsy, propelled by Sonny Payne’s drums and with estimable arrangements by Quincy Jones and Ralph Burns.

Tony Augarde

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