The excellence of Ruby Braff’s final studio album should come as no surprise to those who followed the cornetist’s remarkable autumnal recording career. Braff, who died of emphysema-related illness in 2003, had been regularly producing outstanding work primarily for Concord and Arbors Records since his resurgence in the ’80s. C’est Magnifique! is characteristically elegant and ebullient, yet new faces bring additional charm and novelty.
Remarkably, Braff had never recorded before with guitarist and vocalist John Pizzarelli, a contemporary jazz player as naturally sympathetic to Braff’s mainstream aesthetic as could be imagined. The Flying Pizzarellis are, in fact, John’s trio joined by his legendary father Bucky on guitar and Jim Gwinn on drums. Guitar-based ensembles have long been a Braff trademark: Here, the hand-in-glove rapport of the Pizzarellis provides the leader with the cushioning as well as the prodding he needs. The father-and-son team sounds juiced to be playing with the master, as do pianist Ray Kennedy—now a former Pizzarelli trio member—who contributes some of his most sterling recorded work, and bassist Martin Pizzarelli and Gwinn.
With customary style, Braff reveals the enduring melodic charm of Tin Pan Alley standards including “When a Woman Loves a Man,” “Dancing on the Ceiling” and “As Time Goes By”; his superbly constructed improvisations enfolded in his chocolate tone. Talk about going out on top!
If the finality of Braff’s life brings renewed sadness, the word that additional Braff recordings are to be released in the future certainly tempers the sting.