Ray Charles Genius + Soul = Jazz Reissued

Concord to release Deluxe Edition of seminal recording, plus three others by legendary singer/pianist

Producer Nick Phillips
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Nick Phillips is a lucky man. In his job as Vice-President, Jazz & Catalog A&R for the Concord Music Group, Phillips gets to go through the vaults of the labels under the Concord banner, which includes the catalogs of Fantasy, Prestige, Milestone, Concord, Stax and other seminal jazz and roots music labels. His latest project is the reissue of Ray Charles’ Genius + Soul = Jazz album in a deluxe package, that also includes three other jazz albums from the legend-My Kind of Jazz, Jazz Number Two and My Kind of Jazz Part Three, which were released in succession on Ray’s own labels in the ’70s. This four-album edition, with new liner notes from Will Friedwald, will be officially released as a two-CD set on April 6, 2010.

For those not familiar with the Genius+Soul=Jazz album, it featured Charles on organ performing mostly instrumental cuts (with the exception of “I Got News For You” and “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town”) with an all-star collection of jazz players. Issued originally on ABC Records’ legendary Impulse jazz label in 1960, the record went to the #4 spot on Billboard‘s pop album chart it also produced a hit single “One Mint Julep.” And it established Charles’ bona-fides as a jazz player of the highest order. He had already proven himself in the world of R&B and soul. There seemed to be nothing that the Genius of Soul couldn’t do. As jazz pianist Dick Katz wrote in the original liner notes, “The combination here of rare talent plus uncommon craftsmanship has produced a record that showcases the timeless quality and innate taste that is uniquely that of Ray Charles.”

Like most serious music fans, Phillips felt that he knew Charles’ oeuvre pretty well. But he still learned something new about Charles the musician. “I really was reminded of what an amazing instrumentalist he was. He’s playing organ on the whole record and playing it great.”

A trumpet player himself, Phillips really appreciated hearing the great horn section on the Genius+Soul album: Thad Jones, Joe Newman, Clark Terry, Al Grey, Frank Foster, Snooky Young, Joe Wilder and Frank Wess. “Really, that band is basically the Count Basie Orchestra, minus Count. What a horn section. What’s most interesting is that the guy who gets featured a lot with the trumpet solos is Phillip Guilbeau. To be honest, I wasn’t that familiar with his playing beforehand. At least not compared with Jones, Newman, Terry and Young. But he is a very good player. Can you imagine what it was like for him to come into that studio with those guys and then end up doing most of the solos?”

The album was produced by Creed Taylor, with arrangements by Quincy Jones and Ralph Burns, a virtual dream team in the studio. Phillips didn’t hesitate when I asked him about the impact of those three on the recording. “Well, I’m really partial to Quincy Jones, as far as arrangers go. This record successfully brings together hard bop and big band styles and that’s due to the playing, but also due to the arrangements. Quincy’s talents as an arranger are just amazing on this record.”

The deluxe edition also includes the reissue of an often overlooked Charles album, released nine years after Genius+Soul=JazzMy Kind of Jazz, produced by Charles for his own label. He subsequently released Jazz Number Two and My Kind of Jazz, Part Three; all are included in this set. I asked Phillips why those albums are less known and he chalked it up to distribution. “Maybe because those were on Ray’s own label. No question though that they didn’t have the same crossover success of Genius+Soul.”

My Kind of Jazz Part 3, which concludes the Genius + Soul = Jazz deluxe package, was recorded in Los Angeles circa 1975, featured the Ray Charles Orchestra, with another great horn section including Clifford Solomon(alto sax); Glen Childress (trombone), Johnny Coles (trumpet), Leroy Cooper (baritone sax) and James Clay (tenor sax). Indeed, for a jazz fan there is much to savor in My Kind of Jazz and its followups. In his original liner notes to My Kind of Jazz, Quincy Jones wrote, “This album is the essence of what Ray used to tell us when we were kids: Be true to the soul of the material you’re dealing with.”

Given that many of us likely have the Genius+Soul album, and maybe the others too, in multiple formats already, why would we want to shell out twenty dollars or more for this deluxe set? “First of all, we did 24-bit remastering from the original analog tapes, so it sounds better than it ever has. And, this set is really the best of both worlds. You’re getting the soulfulness of hard bop and the sizzle of a big band. With all of these albums in one set, you’re getting a cohesive collection of Ray’s jazz work. It’s a reminder of the great jazz artist that Ray was.” Sold, American.

I wondered if in going through the masters, Phillips found and included anything notable that was left on the cutting room floor? “No, everything in this edition had been released on an album beforehand. We did add one cut from a Steve Turre album in which Ray played piano, as a bonus track.”

Given all the incredible music he’s hearing day in and day out, Phillips could easily be a very jaded guy, but in fact he loves the music now just as much as when he started. “Yes, getting to listen to all this great music in its original form is inspiring. It’s the best part of my job, hands-down.”

Concurrently with the Charles recording, Phillips has been working on a set of reissues for the OJC Remasters series, including:

Dave Brubeck Quartet: Jazz at Oberlin
Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane

Joe Pass: Virtuouso
Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section

Sonny Rollins: Way Out West

Finally, Phillips produced Nnenna Freelon’s upcoming album for Concord-Homefree-recorded in her hometown of Durham, NC. That album, her seventh on Concord Jazz and first studio album since 2005, will be released on April 20, 2010.

Yes, work like that makes it easy for the man to love his work.