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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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For the Last Time

Arbors Jazz ARCD 19368





1. Sometimes I'm Happy
2. Why Shouldn´t I?
3. Just You, Just Me
4. I Want a Little Girl
5. Rockin´ Chair
1. Dinah
2. Yesterdays
3. The Man I Love,
4. The Man With a Horn
5. Indiana
Ruby Braff - Cornet
Scott Hamilton - Tenor sax
Jon Wheatley - Guitar
John Bunch - Piano
Dave Green - Bass
Steve Brown - Drums

I recently reviewed the last album recorded by tenor-saxophonist  Johnny Griffin, and I feel the same emotions on hearing this - the last album from cornettist Ruby Braff. My feelings are a mixture of sadness at his departure but joy at his musical eloquence. The double CD was recorded at the Nairn Jazz Festival in Scotland on 7 August 2002, and Ruby died the following February. At the time of this gig, Braff was in a wheelchair and suffering badly from emphysema and asthma but there are few signs of his powers being diminished. In fact his appearance at Nairn followed a long British tour, which included two sets per night for twelve nights at London's Pizza on the Park.

Like Ruby Braff, Scott Hamilton has sometimes been regarded as "old-fashioned" but, like Ruby, he is a superb mainstream player whose music can never go out of style. The supporting musicians consist of Scott Hamilton's working group of the time, with the addition of guitarist Jon Wheatley.

When Braff introduces the first tune, Sometimes I'm Happy, the audience reacts with laughter and applause, recognising that Ruby is being ironical and that he will do his best despite his breathing difficulties. The audience's warm response adds to the pleasure of this album, as it will match the listener's feelings at hearing such good music. Ruby fills the gaps between tunes to chat informally and humorously, which allows him to regain his breath, although his remarks are not always easy to hear.

Why Shouldn't I? is a little-known Cole Porter song, performed here with graceful elegance. As on other tracks, the melody is shared around between the musicians. Just You, Just Me includes several choruses from Jon Wheatley - a guitarist who is not particularly famous but who shows his abilities impressively on this album. Ruby's cornet sounds as mellow as it ever did. In fact he had the most appealing tone on his instrument, matching the great Bix Beiderbecke. Scott Hamilton spices his own playing with several quotations, including a brief hint of Cocktails for Two. Ruby Braff also inserts a quote from The Wizard of Oz into his eloquent solo on I Want a Little Girl. Rockin' Chair has some lovely interplay from Braff and Hamilton, with one supporting the other considerately.

The second CD is as good as the first. Dinah is a tune in danger of being overworked, but the solos from Ruby and Scott flow beautifully, although I wish drummer Steve Brown had thought of less repetitive bass-drum accents (he uses the same pattern rather often during the concert). The comradely empathy between Braff and Hamilton in Yesterdays fully justifies Ruby's verdict: "The whole thing was like a nice conversation". The Man I Love is taken at a brighter tempo than usual but it allows Braff to exhibit that special yearning quality in his playing.

Ruby takes a rest while Scott is featured in The Man With a Horn, played very slowly and providing a good example of his penchant for rhapsodising. The CD closes with Indiana, which actually ended the first half of the concert but has been moved here because the final tune of the evening (Honeysuckle Rose) wasn't recorded in full. Ruby sounds fragile towards the end of his solo on Indiana but it is generally a swinging performance. Throughout the album, the rhythm section keeps things moving smoothly.

As I said at the end of my review of Johnny Griffin's last album, this double CD captures Ruby Braff clearly enjoying himself (despite his considerable health problems), and it makes a fitting, if poignant, farewell to a great jazzman.

Tony Augarde




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