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Reviewers: Don Mather, Tony Augarde, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby

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C'est Magnifique!

Arbors Jazz ARCD 19270




1. Lulu's Back in Town
2. Was I to Blame for Falling in Love with You?
3. You're a Lucky Guy
4. When a Woman Loves a Man
5. C'est Magnifique
6. My Honey's Lovin' Arms
7. I Didn't Know What Time It Was
8. They Can't Take That Away From Me
9. As Time Goes By
10. Sometimes I'm Happy
11. Dancing on the Ceiling

Ruby Braff - Cornet
Bucky Pizzarelli - Guitar
John Pizzarelli - Guitar, vocals
Ray Kennedy - Piano
Martin Pizzarelli - Bass
Jim Gwinn - Drums
Rachel Domber, Daryl Sherman, Adam Morgenstern, Dan Morgenstern, Al Lipsky, Gail Firestone, Ross Firestone ("The Oo-la-la Singers") - Vocals (track 5)

I have never understood why more trumpeters don't take up the cornet. It has a sweeter, more mellow tone than the trumpet and its potential has been demonstrated by a number of great musicians, including Bix Beiderbecke, Red Nichols, Muggsy Spanier, Rex Stewart and Wild Bill Davison. Nobody has played the cornet more mellifluously than Ruby Braff - starting with those ground-breaking 1950s recordings with Vic Dickenson (which established the term "mainstream" in people's consciousness), followed by a wide range of discs with such jazzmen as Ellis Larkins, Mel Powell, George Barnes and Dick Hyman.

This CD contains the last studio recordings that Ruby made for the Arbors Jazz label in 2002 - the year before he died. His playing shows no signs of diminishing powers - indeed, his work retains the improvisational invention and beauty of sound that characterised all his music. The album has added appeal with the presence of Ruby's old friends, guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli and drummer Jim Gwinn, and particularly with the addition of the John Pizzarelli Trio, a group (including John's brother Martin) that has produced many exciting recordings. In fact John (son of Bucky) seems rather restrained on these sessions, perhaps wishing Ruby Braff to have the spotlight, so there are few of the amazing guitar fireworks that John has given us elsewhere. The session may be fairly low-key but it is nonetheless full of joyful music.

The opening Lulu's Back in Town brings fine examples of Braff's ability to reach the highest and lowest reaches of his instrument, with some remarkably gruff low notes. Ray Kennedy's piano solo is as well-shaped and tasteful as you would expect from having heard him on recordings by John Pizzarelli's trio. Two choruses from Ruby accompanied only by the double bass are pure delight.

Several tunes on the album are familiar jazz standards but Ruby excelled at choosing lesser-known numbers to play with - like Was I to Blame for Falling in Love with You?, a ballad on which Ruby, Bucky and John solo tenderly. I was also pleased to find When a Woman Loves a Man, a sadly neglected piece (not to be confused with Percy Sledge's When a Man Loves a Woman), which I had previously only heard played by an Eddie Condon group featuring Wild Bill Davison. Ruby starts it eloquently, with simple backing from Bucky Pizzarelli. John's solo sticks close to the melody but Ray's piano solo is more allusive. Why don't more bands play gorgeous tunes like this?

You're a Lucky Guy is the sort of jaunty song that was meat and drink to Ruby, The rhythm section swings as strongly as one of Count Basie's memorable sections, and Perdido is introduced as a sparky counter-melody. You can sample here the difference between the styles of the two guitar-playing Pizzarellis: John concentrating on single notes while Bucky is more chordal. Drummer Jim Gwinn swaps effective eights with Ruby and John. The title-track has interjections from an unpaid vocal chorus and some beautifully flowing playing from Ruby Braff. Again (as throughout the album), Ray Kennedy's piano is a highlight whether soloing or accompanying. The next two tracks continue the near-perfection of this session, with Braff unselfishly sharing out the honours with the other members of the group but remaining the paramount soloist among a group of virtuosi. Thomas Hustad's perceptive sleeve-note points out how Ruby varies the music by using different permutations of the six instruments.

John Pizzarelli is not only a very talented guitarist but also a pleasing vocalist, as he exhibits in They Can't Take That Away From Me, where he sings the seldom-heard verse and is then supported in the chorus by Ruby's inventive obbligato. John also sings As Time Goes By, including its even less familiar verse. Ruby's solo is a duet with Ray Kennedy, reminding us of those outstanding duets that Ruby recorded with Ellis Larkins and Dick Hyman. When this track ends, one is tempted to say "Play it again, Ruby". Sometimes I'm Happy is taken at an easy loping tempo, with thrusting drums from Jim Gwinn, and the CD ends with Dancing on the Ceiling in which every musician dances lightly and gracefully.

A magical album.

Tony Augarde





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