Saturday, June 20, 2020

Listening to Ray Bryant

“I used to be a free jazz drummer, now I just want to play tight arrangements.”
— me a few years ago

That's not 100% true, but I've learned a lot of respect for the craft of arranging. Slow Train by Ray Bryant is essentially a trio record made to sound like a larger ensemble with some good arranging, and the addition of a miniature brass section with Art Farmer and Snooky Young on trumpet and flugelhorn. And the right mix— the horns are mixed 60s pop style, in the background, in one channel.

It's not the type of record musicians get excited about today, but it's extremely solid. I don't know what's up with people, if they're too hip to write things that will go over with a general audience, or if they think there's no market for it, or what. The strength here is in the tunes, the arrangements, the groove, Bryant's voice, and the great rhythm section. No extended solos, not a lot of improvisation— there is not a lot of development that isn't written into the arrangements themselves. Freddie Waits and Richard Davis aren't playing anonymously, or uncreatively— they're just playing in support of the arrangement. Davis has the big solo on the record, on Satin Doll.



Programming-wise, there's an extended dance number (Slow Train), one jazz standard (Satin Doll), five pop arrangements— one gospel (Amen), one soul (Prodigal Son), one quasi-bossa (Fox Stalker), and two Francophone-composer tunes (If You Go Away, Apple Tree). Everything but Slow Train and Satin Doll are under five minutes long.

Throughout the record you hear Waits being strategic about using a shuffle feel, or a backbeat, or a snare drum accent on 4. Except on Slow Train, of course— it's not intended to develop. I personally always want to have a concept when I play a shuffle. The arrangement has to support it, and help you get away from it. Or there's a strong leader whose playing just demands it. I don't like doing a jam session-style endless shuffle, just because somebody said he let's play a shuffle. It's a mediocre groove for that kind of playing, and it just ends up being restrictive.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

Thanks for posting this album however I thought that it is called Slow Freight.