Aurell Ray
Smile and Smile Again

Seven Venues Entertainment, CD1001

Aurell Ray, acoustic guitars; Renee Rosnes, piano and strings; Mulgrew Miller, Erwin Stuckey, piano; Teodross Avery, saxophone; Cecilia Smith, vibes; Greg Hutchinson, Melvin Broach, drums; Peter Washington, Jimmy Anderson, bass; Cyro Baptiste, percussion; Greg Francisco, strings

This is an engaging session of five Ray originals intermixed with Freddie Hubbard's "Skydive," Joe Henderson's "If," and Branford Marsalis's "Solstice." This very listenable nine-song set is laid back without losing its sense of swing. Aurell Ray is a tasteful guitarist who has listened to all the right predecessors and found his own touch. He refuses to overblow, and he insists on a sure pulse to carry everything forward.

In Renee Rosnes and Mulgrew Miller, Ray has chosen two of the best younger pianists. Rosnes's deeply lyrical time sense and self-assured tactfulness work to her benefitand to the betterment of anyone who plays alongside. The feel of rolling ocean waves suffuses the title song, where Rosnes particularly shines. Hubbard's well-regarded "Skydive" provides Mulgrew Miller room to assert his impeccable yet understated force.

But this is Aurell Ray's album. That is amply clear on one of his originals, "Joy Unbound," where his twelve-string acoustic guitar broods with the menacing promise of an unearthly kind of happiness.

I suspect we are confronted here with a superior talent whose full artistic capacity will unfold over time. One is now ready, armed with this set of mellow mood pieces, to hear Aurell Ray take hold of some standards and blow. If the delicacy of his touch and the precision of his phrasing suggest correctly, then Aurell Ray is a bad cat to tangle with. Stay tuned.

by Jim Merod


back to current issue