Plato's notion was that objects in the real world are but imperfect reflections of ideal objects that exist in a perfect world. Sometimes one of the objects in our world is so close to the ideal that you can't tell the difference. This is one of those times.
During the fifties, when Ray Charles was touring with his hits like "What'd I Say", "Talking About You", etc., he thought that his band, and his tenor man, David Newman, were so strong that they needed to record a straight ahead jazz album. That album was released as "Ray Charles Presents David Newman".
What is extraordinary about this band is the ensemble sound. This was Ray Charles' band, playing to Ray Charles' audience. There was no jive here, no academia, no experiments, no wanna be's. This music is as close to the bone as it gets, and, at the same time, it is completely original. These players were all absolute masters, and they were playing music the likes of which had never been played before. It is so perfect it seems timeless.
The lineup was trumpet, tenor and baritone sax, and a rhythm section of piano, bass, and drums. Six men. The charts are extraordinary, written by Bennie 'Hank' Crawford. I read recently that Quincy Jones also had a hand in. Particularly, check out the cut "Sweet Eyes", an original by Crawford. This small band sounds as powerful as the Maynard Ferguson big band, they hit very hard and the drive is relentless. I think "Sweet Eyes" is the one of the best small band charts ever written. The Platonic ideal.
Regardless of how good a band is, it's the soloist's job to take it to another level. This is a great band, and David Newman's soloing does take it to a higher level. Newman's solo on `Sweet Eyes' is fast, driving, harmonically surprising, melodic, and very precisely articulated. A typical David Newman solo! Newman's playing makes this disc transcendent.
Plus, there's Hank Crawford playing on baritone sax, and Marcus Belgrave, and Ray Charles on piano, playing very strong solos. Is Ray Charles a great bebop player? Of course he is! His touch is unlike anyone else's, his playing has an bluesy resiliency that is immediately identifiable, and he is obviously very comfortable playing the bebop idiom.
This band is way too good, and way too unappreciated. It could be compared to any of the other more well known bands of the era, the Horace Silver groups, the Art Blakey groups, Cannonball's groups, the Blue Note groups with Kenny Dorham and Joe Henderson, say, and this group would definitely hold its own in this fine company.