The Impulse Records label was always associated with the New
Wave of Jazz, but its second release, and first big success was this
straight-forward big band album from the hitmaker who could do no wrong in the
public’s eye back in 1960. Ray Charles, who had jumped from Atlantic
to the ABC-Paramount company just a few months before, had already mastered the
new soul sound of rhythm and blues, was topping the charts with pop standards a la “Georgia On My Mind,” and was
simultaneously pursuing the attention of the jazz world.
Charles may have seemed like an innovator in the world of
soul, but he was really just taking gospel forms and melding them to r’n’b
tropes, while displaying his own dynamic personality as a singer and performer.
He had done several jazz records at Atlantic
before helping his new company jump-start its new subsidiary, so the Impulse
album was not unexpected.
But while The Genius
of Ray Charles in particular, and two duets with the great Milt Jackson are
well remembered, it’s Genius + Soul =
Jazz that is his breakthrough to this other world. It’s probably the Hammond organ Charles
plays that puts it over the top. Arrangers Quincy Jones and Ralph Burns had
been involved with The Genius of, and
that record had also featured backing by current and former members of the
Count Basie Orchestra. Charles sounds like he’s discovered a new way to express
joy every time his fingers soar over the keys of the Hammond.
“One Mint Julep,” a Cuban-ized take on an old jazz tune, was
something of a hit, and it’s easy to hear why. Surrounded by a collection of
hard swinging, bluesy tunes (and a couple of Ray Charles vocal numbers, too),
it jumps out as the best of a strong collection every time.
This new reissue is rounded out with three jazz releases
from the early 70s: My Kind of Jazz, Jazz Number II, and My Kind of Jazz Part 3. Here, Charles is back on piano and electric
piano, and the band is his working orchestra. These records may seem like minor
footnotes in the overall scheme of Charles life, but they are absolutely
delightful. The arrangements crackle with a sense of history and invention (not
always found so comfortable together), and every instrumentalist sizzles on the
On two CDS, you get one stone classic album and three awfully
good ones; there aren’t many better bargains in the stores these days.
Standout Tracks: “One
Mint Julep,” “I’ve Got News For You,” “Sidewinder,” “Misty.” STEVE PICK