After all these years, some jazz historians continue to lament the end of the big-band era; they continue to remind listeners how much of a thrill it can be to hear 20 or 25 seasoned jazz musicians playing together. But there is also a lot to be said for intimacy in jazz -- the sort of intimacy that serves bassist Ray Brown and Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida delightfully well on Moonlight Serenade. Recorded in Germany in 1981, this session finds Brown and Almeida forming an acoustic duo -- and the two of them enjoy a consistently strong rapport on lyrical, introspective performances of material that ranges from Tin Pan Alley standards ("Blue Skies," "Beautiful Love") to Brazilian songs (Ary Barroso's "Inquietação") to European classical music (Johann Sebastian Bach's Air). One of the most ambitious tracks on the album is a medley that combines Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight" with Ludwig van Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata (as opposed to "Moonlight Serenade" -- although this 70-minute CD is titled Moonlight Serenade, the gem that became Glenn Miller's theme song is not part of the program). "'Round Midnight," of course, is one of those standards that has been recorded thousands of times over the years; it has been recorded so often that veteran producer Orrin Keepnews once described it as "the national anthem of jazz." But it isn't every day that one hears "'Round Midnight" successfully blended with Beethoven -- something that Brown and Almeida are able to accomplish because they obviously know one another so well musically. Moonlight Serenade, it should be stressed, wasn't the first time the two of them joined forces: Brown and Almeida had played together in the L.A. 4 in the '70s -- so they were a perfect combination when, in 1981, they recorded the cohesive guitar/bass duets on this excellent CD.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson