Being considered one of the greatest bass players in the history of jazz (alongside Blanton, Mingus and very few others), Brown had a great rapport with many pianists. This CD is, however, an interesting combination of a current colaborator (Green), an old pal (Peterson), some new forces Brown was always so eager to promote (Moroni, Keezer) and a respected veteran he allegedly hadn't worked with previously (Jamal). They are all allegedly friends with Brown, but it is the music that interests us here, not their friendship.
It is the latter pianist (Ahmad Jamal) who kicks this great album off with some really imaginative and often surprising playing based upon Milt Jackson's "Bags'Grove".
Jamal actually merges Jackson-style funk and modern harmonies with witty quotations of and allusions to Ellington (a great pianist Brown had worked with). In addition to that, Jamal interacts with the star of the CD in a fashion that does not reveal that they are new collaborators.
Another gem from Jamal's set is (believe it or not) W. C. Handy's good old "St. Louis Blues", where Jamal (an important protagonist of modern jazz revolution on piano) quotes both Ellington and Charlie Parker ("Now's the Time" pops up unexpectedly), while Ray Brown gets low down, dirty and blue; nevertheless not forsaking his own contributions to the modern jazz revolution. Brown manages to play this blues in a fashion that at the same time evokes classical blues and transcends it into some sort of postmodern pastiche...
Without commenting upon every pianist's contribution, it would be simply silly to miss Benny Green's gentle ruminations on "Lover" and "Just a Gigolo", played in a slow tempo that really gives this popular tune a vast array of new musical meanings (just try to sing the well known lyrics at this tempo and see how they fit the song).
And then there is absolutely silly Erroll Garner impersonation by the Italian pianist Dado Moroni on Coltrane's "Giant Steps"; something that contributes very much to the overall feeling of jazz history being treated as a goldmine Brown and his associates freely dig through... It also made me think of the way Garner played Rodgers' and Hart's "Lover", quite different than Green's mainstream fashion...
Naturally, Oscar Peterson is also here on "St Tropez" and "How Come You Do Me"; although I have heard him sounding better in previous years, this is still a very pleasant occasion, a musical reunion of two giants with similar approach to rhythm, melody, inovation and tradition in jazz...
Great, great, great album! It is only pity that the front cover is the collage of pianists' photos, instead of the beautiful photo of Brown (with transparent hand that carresess the neck of his instrument) also included in the CD.
The format of this music is classical to the extreme - piano, bass and the quite competent drums of Lewis Nash, but the spirit is very (post)modern, so I'm quite surprised that a jazz record guide I consulted recently described the pianists on this CD as (more or less coherent) group of Peterson's desciples, which would make the album somewhat predictable and monotonous.
I strongly, strongly, strongly disagree.