Sunday, January 27, 2013

Ray Charles – Genius + Soul = Jazz

   Frank Sinatra called him “the only true genius in show business”. Ray Charles was a phenomenon in many genres for more than half of the century, an iconic star of popular music, talented singer, instrumentalist and composer, but most of all he had the great sense of melodic line. Although he was more emotionally driven type than the intellectualist trying to construct the future reality, he influenced the shape of contemporary pop music a way much more than any other star performer. After initial phase of his musical career when he was playing and singing with various orchestras, Ray Charles became famous for his recordings connecting different traditions of jazz, gospel and blues. He played a vital role in the development of soul and rhythm and blues genres, becoming godfather for next generations of musicians.
   This crossover success was in fact a consequence of multiple components, the specific conditions of American culture in 50’s and 60’s and personal traits. After he gets great popularity as leading soul and R&B artist, he made one more step towards the fusion of different pop music genres. He mixed soul music with Latin and country music means of expression. In effect he belonged to these musicians who were aiming to the integration of American musical culture, what gave him the wider society acceptation. In many aspects this was his best years. In 1965 his career has been stopped for a year when he was arrested for the possession of heroin, following rehab in Los Angeles. After a year break and recovery he returned to the stage and to the studio. His career had run with even greater commercial success.

Ray Charles – Genius + Soul = Jazz (1961)

   Since first R&B hits in mid-fifties to his great successes in sixties Ray Charles published the whole shelf of groundbreaking albums. In his discography albums recorded for ABC and its jazz label Impulse! in the years 1960 to 1965 have special position and rich characteristics. One of most significant in this collection is album recorded in New York during two days – December 26-27, 1960 and published under title formulated as equation Genius + Soul = Jazz. The recording orchestra was formed out of Count Basie Band members with such great personalities as trumpeter Clark Terry and Thad Jones, Frank Wess on alto saxophone, Billy Mitchell playing tenor sax and guitarist Freddie Green. Album features arrangements made by Quincy Jones and Ralph Burns. According to big band setup and many solos it should be consider as jazz exposition of great soul singer. But from the first impression it looks the title equation is not always true.
   Mostly instrumental music on this album could be considered as a continuation of his prior blues and jazz recordings, especially The Genius of Ray Charles album published by Atlantic in 1959, where Quincy Jones and Ralph Burns wrote arrangements and the core of the band were Clark Terry, Frank Wess, Billy Mitchell and many others. Released in March 1961 by Impulse! label album reached 4th place on Billboard 200 list. There was also license pressing in France by joint Impulse! and VEGA label (IMP 2). For French market Impulse!-VEGA had also published an EP-sampler with four songs: Let’s Go, I’ve Got News from You, Moanin’ and From the Heart (IMP 55 001).

Ray Charles – Moanin' (VEGA EP 1961)

   The element missing in the title of the album is the blues. Five compositions are based on 12-bar blues changes, while the other five are based on 16-bar chord structures. Blues is inherent part of this program, it is present in melodic patterns and in phrasing, in voice sound and in the way Charles played Hammond B-3 solos. The program of this album is almost completely instrumental with two exceptions – songs I’ve Got News for You and I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town – both in 12-bar blues form. Trumpet solos and great orchestra sound reviving big band era powers. This record was clearly the continuation of Ray Charles’ artistic development, but it’s particularly significant because it has been issued at the turning point and the beginning moment of his commercial success.

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