by Willard Manus
Concord Records has dipped into its thousand-strong catalogue for two of its juiciest plums, Trio and Overseas Special, which the company has re-mastered and re-released as STRAIGHT AHEAD. The 2-CD package features Monty Alexander, Ray Brown and Herb Ellis, the famous drumless trio which ruled the jazz roost in the 1980s.
Disc one (Trio) is a studio recording that emphasizes the inventive, pristine talents of the three musicians, two of whom (Brown and Ellis) once backed up Oscar Peterson, a pianist of phenomenal proportions and technique. Peterson's emphasis on complex arrangements, strong soloing and respect for melody is reflected in the way Brown and Ellis approach each of the nine tunes. With the Jamaican-born Alexander letting his fingers fly over the keys in captivating, Caribbean-oriented fashion, Brown and Ellis provide the solid, finely meshed underpinnings.
Although the trio tends to favor slower tempos (which allow for laid-back and expressive soloing), they are capable of shifting into high gear, as on "Sweet Georgia Brown." They also show a bluesy and witty side on "Captain Bill."
Disc Two (Overseas Special) was recorded live in Japan and offers six cuts, commencing with "But Not For Me," the Johnny Mandel ballad which gets a virtuosic workout from Ellis, whose improvisations take your breath away.
Alexander, Brown and Ellis also show their compositional skills, especially on "F.S.R.," a tune Brown wrote in tribute to Sonny Rollins. All three men kick in with fiery solos and a hard-driving tempo on "C.C. Rider."
STRAIGHT AHEAD is without question one of the finest jazz CDs of the year.