As suggested by his now 8-strong bandleading discography and concert sightings like the Monterey Jazz Festival last September, while he graces many a bandstand with his potent bass, when it comes time to don the bandleader's mantle, Ray Drummond is about more than good swinging. An affable, gentle giant of a man affectionately known as the Bulldog, Drummond has become one of the more formidable bassists in the music. His deep, rich tone, and in-your-face bass attack is as sturdy as the proverbial oak tree, and as reliably swinging as they come.
Ray Drummond the bandleader's skills are ably represented here by a quartet numbering Craig Handy on saxophones, Stephen Scott on piano, and Billy Hart on drums. Assembled for a Village Vanguard gig, Drummond and company found a simpatico on the bandstand that demanded a recording and, thankfully, Arabesque was a willing host. While Drummond's instrumental skills have a very immediate quality, his choice of material, arrangements, and subsequent plan to address same comes swathed in more subtle clothing. His choice of material from the pen of Mr. Subtlety, Wayne Shorter, including the lovely "Ana Maria," "Driftin'," and "Nefertiti," clearly suggests this penchant. "Ballade Poetique" is a tone poem that follows the adage "we always solo, we never solo." Also included are a vigorous workout of Trane's "Mr. P.C.," and Ron Carter's bass gem "Little Waltz." Lest one get the impression of heavy slogging, Ray opens up plenty of room for the kind of individual expression his mates' obvious skills require.