Ruby Braff's career spanned from the 1940s until months before his death in early 2003. This 2011 release comes from two previously unissued sessions in the spring of 1998, not that they were substandard in any way, but just set aside as other projects were completed. The veteran cornetist was a master of subtlety and a consistently inspired improviser, while he sought to surround himself with a similar caliber of players. Guitarist Howard Alden (a frequent collaborator), alto saxophonist Chuck Wilson, rhythm guitarist Jon Wheatley, bassist Marshall Wood, and drummer Jim Gwin make up the main group. The performances feel like they came together with little more than a brief discussion, though there were some on-the-spot charts created by Braff with Alden's help. The delightful interplay is a constant factor throughout the sessions. The satisfying "Linger Awhile" showcases Braff's rich cornet, yet there is plenty of space to feature Wilson and Alden as well. "I'm Comin' Virginia" fell out of fashion by the time bop started dominating jazz, though in Braff's mind, good melodies never grew stale, as he proves in this loping, lyrical performance. "I Know That You Know" swings like mad with the addition of Scott Robinson on tenor sax (he joins Wilson in playing harmony to accompany Braff's opening solo), while Robinson's warm solo combines the influences of all of the great swing tenor saxophonists. The last four tracks add Robinson and trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso (another gifted player somewhat in Braff's mold), providing a perfect foil for the leader in a snappy take of "'Deed I Do" and Braff's melancholy blues "Clear Water" (based on the changes to "Love Me or Love Me"). Wilson switches to clarinet for the deliberate, foot-tapping exploration of the old chestnut "The Darktown Strutters' Ball," in which the group avoids stating the melody outright and works its way around its chord progression in a superb Dixieland setting. Fans of Ruby Braff can only hope that more unissued treasures by the late great cornetist are revealed on future Arbors CDs to follow this top-drawer collection.
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AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden