Ray Charles and the Count Basie Orchestra
Ray Sings, Basie Swings
The Music Box's #23 album of 2006
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2006, Volume 13, #10
Written by John Metzger
Ray Charles and Count Basie shared the stage many times over the course of their careers. They never managed, however, to meet in the recording studio, which is why Ray Sings, Basie Swings is such an unusual endeavor. The story behind the latest, posthumously released collection from Charles is thus: Found within the vaults at Fantasy Records was an old tape reel that simply was labeled "Ray/Basie." Initially, it was thought that the discovery represented a revelatory collaboration between Charles and the Count Basie Orchestra from one of the many co-headlining shows that the artists performed during the ’70s. Instead, it contained their separate sets, and while Charles’ vocals were in pristine shape, the rest of the recording, which featured his regular accompanists, was murky, at best. Nevertheless, the kernel of an idea had been planted, and producer Gregg Field invited into the studio the current incarnation of the Count Basie Orchestra — Basie himself died in 1984, but his band has continued to further his legacy — in order to begin the painstaking process of creating new arrangements with which to surround Charles’ voice.
While these sorts of technological creations typically sound ridiculous — for proof, look no further than Natalie Cole’s duet with her father on Unforgettable or, for that matter, Charles’ own, uninspired set Genius & Friends — the bulk of Ray Sings, Basie Swings works surprisingly well. It helps, of course, that during the show from which Charles’ vocals were taken, the man, for whom "genius" was a frequently evoked nickname, delivered an utterly stunning performance. Yet, the fashion in which the Count Basie Orchestra, under the guidance of Field, so perfectly was able to match Charles’ intense, emotional delivery — be it through its larger-than-life firepower or its softly spoken subtlety — is an astounding feat in and of itself.
Granted, there are a few brief moments on Ray Sings, Basie Swings when the music dips dangerously close to becoming a schmaltzy, Vegas-style send-up, but every time it seems as if the album might lose both its focus and its luster, Charles reaches from beyond the grave to bring the project back on track. In moving from the brassy blues of Let the Good Times Roll to the brokenhearted yearning of Cryin’ Time as well as from the earthy groove of Every Saturday Night to the punchy, Bobby "Blue" Bland-inspired arrangement of Feel So Bad, Field essentially concocted a fitting epitaph for Charles that succeeds in transcending the notion that this was merely another blatant bid for a Grammy nomination.
Of Further Interest...
Ray Sings, Basie Swings is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box