I guess that I would call "The Walkup", the debut release by guitarist Jeff Ray, a smooth jazz album. But I don’t think of it as a smooth jazz album. Which is good, because…
I guess that I would call "The Walkup", the debut release by guitarist Jeff Ray, a smooth jazz album. But I don’t think of it as a smooth jazz album. Which is good, because I don’t particularly care for smooth jazz, and I love this CD! A better description for this recording might be to say that it’s half smooth jazz, half acid jazz. ‘Smooth Acid’, if I could create a new sub-genre.
Ray, on electric guitar, is joined by Aaron Swinn on Hammond B3 organ & Rhodes keyboard, Darryl Hall on electric bass and Victor Wise on drums. And never have you heard a tighter band! Brilliantly conceived and produced, this album incorporates equal amounts of r&b, funk, rock and jazz to create a hypnotic blend of ultra tight grooves and delicious melodies. Of the eight tunes presented here, six are Ray originals, the two covers being the club single "Hot Music" and the Roy Ayers classic "Everybody Loves The Sunshine".
The outstanding component that permeates every second of every track on this album is the groove. Hall and Wise lock like Fort Knox - always deep in the pocket but loose and fluid as well. Hall’s bass sound is full and round, with just the right amount of grittiness. Wise’s timing is impeccable, his playing is crisp and concise, but with a laid back feel. I also have to give props to producer Tony Haywood for mixing the album in a way that doesn’t leave the rhythm section in the background, but puts them right up front where they belong and where they can make a maximum contribution to the overall sound. Rounding out that rhythm section is Swinn on keyboards, who is the icing on the cake. Whether he is tastily comping behind Ray or playing a fiery solo, he is simple perfection.
And let us not forget the fearless leader. Ray began playing guitar at the age of 14. After earning a music degree from Ohio State he eventually began studying jazz at Rutgers under the tutelage of Kenny Baron, among others. Soon he began branching out from straight-ahead jazz and started working the soul, funk and r&b circuit in Harlem. It was a demanding route to take, but one that allowed him to develop into the player he is today. His jazz chops are undeniable, but he also possesses a rhythmic sense that many jazz players are missing. It is that rhythmic sense that allows him to stand out from the multitude of other guitar players trying to play this type of music.
"The Walkup" is a great debut from an outstanding new artist. Highly recommended.