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Ray Brown: Some of My Best Friends Are… Guitarists

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If it’s true you can judge people by the friends they keep, Ray Brown has to be the best-loved cat in the galaxy. On the heels of CDs proclaiming some of his best friends are pianists, sax players, singers and trumpeters, going back to ’94, Brown is now embracing guitarists. The latest collection is a high-strung elite: John Pizzarelli, Herb Ellis, Kenny Burrell, Russell Malone, Bruce Forman and Ulf Wakenius. Together with Brown’s regular rhythm colleagues-pianist Geoff Keezer and drummer Karriem Riggins-it adds up to a first-rate album.

Pizzarelli sets the tone with a gently swinging “Squeeze Me,” showing how well he listens when trading eights with Brown or Keezer. He’s equally effective with an uptempo “Tangerine,” particularly an all-chordal chorus. There are a couple of heartfelt tributes included: Forman pays homage to Wes Montgomery and inevitably duplicates that unique Montgomery sound. Burrell contributes an introspective original, “Soulful Spirit,” as a farewell to drummer Billy Higgins. Another original, a tantalizing “Blues for Junior,” features Ellis. Wakenius, now with Oscar Peterson, displays some fine Swedish craftsmanship on “My Funny Valentine.” The showstopper, clearly, comes from Russell Malone with a thoughtful, loving rendition of “Little Darlin'” that allows gaps only a Ray Brown could fill.

There are dozens of highlights on Some of My Best Friends Are…Guitarists, but what most clearly stands out, unsurprisingly, is the fluidity of Brown’s bass lines, whether comping or soloing.