The Flying Horse Big Band tips its hat here to Ray Charles, a Florida native son who made a huge imprint on jazz, R&B, gospel, country, and pop music for six decades. (He was born in neighboring Georgia but conceived and raised in Greenville, Fla.)
This Jeff Rupert-directed group puts its stamp on originals and covers that Charles turned into something distinctive. Four pro singers—Rob Paparozzi (doubling on harmonica), Vance Villastrigo, DaVonda Simmons, and Khristian Dentley—add their soulful talents on the vocal tracks.
“One Mint Julep” gets things going. Daniel Howard’s tasty guitar work on this instrumental sets the tone for tenor saxophonist Ryan Devlin, who is the principal reed soloist on the CD. Hammond organ fills get things rocking on a Harry Allen arrangement of “Let the Good Times Roll,” which features ex-Blood, Sweat & Tears singer Paparozzi and the dueling trombones of Jeremiah St. John and Christian Herrera. Crisp horn vamps stand out on Brother Ray’s original “Hallelujah I Love Her So.” Paparozzi is also featured here and on Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On” (arranged by Michael Philip Mossman).
The playful feel of “It Should’ve Been Me” is enhanced by Paparozzi and Villastrigo’s combined vocals. Trombonist St. John is also in the spotlight on “Lonely Avenue,” which features Simmons’ bluesy singing. Mossman’s arrangement of “What’d I Say” teams Villastrigo and Simmons on lead and layered background vocals, respectively. Villastrigo adds vocals and piano on “You Don’t Know Me,” another country hit that Charles covered.
Faculty member Richard Drexler arranged “(It’s Not Easy) Bein’ Green,” a classic Sesame Street chart sung by Kermit the Frog—and later Ray Charles. This one features Take 6 vocalist Dentley. Paparozzi and Simmons team on “Hit the Road Jack,” while Allen’s lush arrangement of “Busted” gives the Charles hit a breezier feel. The closer, a powerful, no-frills version of “Unchain My Heart,” spotlights Herrera on trombone and Villastrigo on vocals. It also underscores the power and cohesiveness of this fine big band.
The lone track here not associated with Brother Ray is “Watermelon Man,” which was one of the band’s feature selections last season. This clever instrumental, arranged by Rupert, includes a prominent vamp that becomes a counterpoint melody to Herbie Hancock’s original.