Jim Rotondi isn't the first jazz artist to pay tribute to Ray Charles. Singer Roseanna Vitro, for example, paid tribute to the soul icon on her 1997 session Catchin' Some Rays: The Music of Ray Charles. But it is safe to say that paying tribute to Charles isn't an idea that has been beaten to death in the jazz world; there haven't been nearly as many jazz tributes to Charles as there have been jazz tributes to Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen, or George Gershwin. And on Blues for Brother Ray, Rotondi offers a hard bop/post-bop instrumentalist's take on Charles' repertoire. Joining Rotondi on this 52-minute CD are tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, guitarist Peter Bernstein, organist Mike LeDonne, and drummer Joe Farnsworth; because the album prominently features an organist and focuses on songs associated with a major R&B legend, one naturally expects to hear some soul-jazz -- and sure enough, the soul-jazz factor is quite strong on groove-oriented but improvisatory performances of "Lonely Avenue" (which absolutely oozes with blues feeling), "What'd I Say," "One Minute Julep," and "Makin' Whoopee." But Rotondi goes for more of a post-bop approach on "Cry Me a River," which finds LeDonne's organ playing taking on a Larry Young-minded quality (as opposed to the Jimmy Smith/Jack McDuff/Richard "Groove" Holmes aesthetic LeDonne usually favors on Blues for Brother Ray). And "Georgia on My Mind" is a major surprise; instead of performing the Hoagy Carmichael standard as a slow ballad, Rotondi transforms it into ultra-fast bop. A consistently engaging acknowledgement of Charles' legacy, Blues for Brother Ray is easily one of the best albums in Rotondi's catalog.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson