January/February 1997

Ruby and Ellis Larkins Braff
Calling Berlin, Vol. 1

Forty years after their first album, Braff and Larkins continue to adore the melody in collaborations that set standards for duo playing. Braff's inventiveness on cornet is enhanced by ever-deeper exploration of chords, more puckish turns of phrase and a tone that he has burnished to an amber radiance, particularly in the register below the staff.

Larkins, an icon among accompanists in any idiom, supports his partner with foundations of rhythm and harmony that do not merely allow, but encourage, the development of lyrical solos. He inspires this partner to brilliance. Braff's solo on "Russian Lullaby" is one of the few recorded jazz improvisations I would be so bold as to call perfect. In ideal proportion, it has daring, balance, swing, humor, beauty and assurance. In some of Larkins' own solos, there is chop and hesitancy that are not present in his playing in the 1955 Vanguard or 1972 Chiaroscuro Braff-Larkins duo albums. When Bucky Pizzarelli plays rhythm guitar on "Russian Lullaby" and "It's a Lovely Day Today," the swing intensifies.

The repertoire, 15 songs by Irving Berlin, gives full reign to both mens' dedication to fine melodies and elaborations on them. I commend this album to young musicians interested in learning how to play songs, as opposed to blowing on the changes of tunes. - Doug Ramsey

Originally published in January/February 1997
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