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Ray Charles: Ray Sings, Basie Swings

Ghosts in the machine. Such is the impression you’re likely to have as you pop this exercise in technological wizardry into your CD player. After all, all three of the album’s principals-Ray Charles, Count Basie and producer Norman Granz-are long gone. Here’s the deal: Late last year, Concord Records’ A&R chief, John Burk, happened upon tapes marked “Ray/Basie” in the label’s Berkeley, Calif. vaults. Turns out they contained muddy recordings of a 1970s concert featuring Basie’s orchestra as the opening act, followed by Charles performing with his own band. At first, the tapes were judged unsalvageable. Then, Burk hit upon the idea of lifting Charles’ vocals (the quality of which was fortunately good) and mixing them with newly recorded music courtesy of the current configuration of the Basie orchestra, augmented by such guests as pianists Shelly Berg, Tom Scott and Jim Cox, B3 organist Joey DeFrancesco and, adding vocal counterpoint alongside a fresh coterie of Raelettes, Patti Austin.

Purists may take exception to the sort of tinkering required to create what press-release hyperbole trumpets as “a beautiful, authentic and irreplaceable piece of music.” Still, there’s no denying that the results, as achieved by engineer (and former Charles sideman) Gregg Field, are superb and truly do represent a welcome addition to the Charles canon. And who could resist the delicious irony of the second-to-last of the disc’s dozen tracks-a spirited reading of “Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma,” Melanie Safka’s gentle condemnation of musical manipulation?

Originally Published