There's an old saying to the effect that "knowing what goes on in the kitchen can spoil your enjoyment of the meal." That nearly happens with Ruby Braff's "For the Last Time" CD. The extensive and well-written notes give considerable detail about the health-related struggles Ruby Braff had on his final tour, and especially in preparing for his final concert, recorded in Nairn Scotland, August 7, 2002. But the listener should not let these details detract him or her from enjoying this 2 CD set. For in spite of the difficulties, Ruby Braff and the music prevail triumphantly. The only hints that Ruby is running out of breath are the fact that he gives considerable solo space to members of his superb band, and that his sound is a little softer than usual. The latter may be due to the fact that he is slightly off-mike (which is quite evident on his spoken parts). But in terms of musical inventiveness Ruby plays extremely well and shows forth his life-time of musical experience. Ruby's characteristic bubbly sound is in full evidence, his melodic solos are a delight, and his use of the cornet's low register is as full and satisfying as ever. (Unlike the review's title, Ruby rarely finished a solo on a high note!).
The program consists of familiar standards but sounds quite fresh. From the opening "Sometimes I'm Happy" to the closing "Indiana", everything here is first rate. Highlights include the swinging "Dinah"; the jaunty and cheerful "Man I Love"; ballads like "Why Shouldn't I", and "I Want A Little Girl"; the mid-tempo "Yesterdays" (particularly the lengthy exchanges between Braff and Scott Hamilton); and Hamilton's feature, "The Man With a Horn". The band is superb both in solo and accompanying roles. Scott Hamilton on tenor is at the peak of his abilities and blends perfectly with Braff. Pianist John Bunch, guitarist Jon Wheatley, bassist Dave Green, along with the tasty and swinging drummer Steve Brown lift the music to the level of jazz delight. The support they provide to Braff is noteworthy and praiseworthy. Wheatley in particular catches the listener's ear with his clean and melodic solos.
This CD is not only recommended to Ruby Braff fans, but to all who love swinging, heart-warming jazz. For Ruby it may have been "For the Last Time", but we can enjoy this excellent concert CD over and over again. Buy it, listen to it, and give thanks for Ruby Braff.