Ray Bryant

In the Back Room

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Solos done live in performance are nothing new for Ray Bryant, but stylistically, this recording does have the masterful, blues-based pianist digging into some new material of his own, along with the music of Fats Waller. Recorded live on two separate dates at Rutgers University, Bryant hints at his blues background on these tracks, but concentrates more on carefully and lovingly constructing Waller's famous melodies. Four of his originals are tacked on as he wends his way through a mostly laid-back set of music that shows he's mellowed with age and wisdom through decades of playing jazz to its professional hilt. He's actually a bit polite on songs like "Keepin' Out of Mischief Now" and patient for "Ain't Misbehavin'," but jumps into some witty and classic stride piano, especially on the two-fisted chords of "St. Louis Blues." Originals like the rhapsodic "Lullaby," the active, boogie-styled title track, or the rip-snorting, under-two-minute jam "The Impossible Rag" show Bryant still has chops to burn at an advanced age. Yet the program overall has a relaxed, laid-back feel, best exemplified during the lighthearted Waller number "Black & Blue," or the yearning, slow "If I Could Be with You." Fans of Ray Bryant will be very pleased with this effort, as recent recordings have come few and far between, but this one reinforces his legendary stature as one of the giants of American-based piano jazz music.

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