Now 75, Ray Brown just keeps doing what he's done for the past 50 years, ever since he helped create the modern sound of jazz bass on recordings by Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, and the Milt Jackson group that would become the Modern Jazz Quartet. I can't decide what I find most remarkable about Brown. He has an ebony-wood tone and suede-smooth attack, and rhythmically he gooses a rock-solid pulse with an almost indiscernible bop kick; his innovations, which have already provided a stylistic architecture for two generations of bassists, will serve as a benchmark for generations to come; and thanks to a lucky combination of genes and environment, his steady musical heartbeat still sounds pretty much the way it did a half century ago. Throughout the past decade Brown has turned out a steady stream of albums with his working trio, and though they've made smart use of guest artists, in the end the records' success depends on this core group's crisp, relaxed swing. On disc and on tour, the trio features drummer Karriem Riggins, who keeps in check the horsepower he's obviously got under the hood: he knows he's driving a luxury ride, not a street machine. On the road, pianist Larry Fuller has the unenviable task of replacing Geoff Keezer, the brainy marvel who currently records with Brown, but he pulls it off without a false step. A key member of the thriving Pacific northwest jazz scene, Fuller has a quick, precise touch--when he plays busy lines in octaves, they pierce the fabric of the music like scalpels. And Brown, well, he just makes it sound ridiculously easy. He's been so good for so long that audiences can easily take him for granted--a compliment, actually, both to his undiminished physical vitality and to the continued relevance of his early achievements. Tuesday through Thursday, June 25 through 27, 8 and 10 PM, Friday and Saturday, June 28 and 29, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, June 30, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.