KEITH PRAY - One Last Stop
by J Hunter
With apologies to fans of classical music, jazz will always generate the most fervent intellectual debates - about phrasing, meaning, motivation, or any number of subjects related (and unrelated) to jazz. How to stop this? Introduce one Hammond B3 organ and shake well. Organ-based jazz - particularly organ mixed with saxophone - is just too damn much fun, and it's hard to be intellectual when you're busy having fun.
Keith Pray understands this concept; otherwise One Last Stop wouldn't be as much of a blast as it is. In his liner notes, Pray talks about how jazz must hit you in the soul and give you an uplifting feeling. While the saxophonist cites two major influences that drive this disc - R&B music and the blues - it's that same feeling that drives every good organ-based jazz tune.
Take Jimmy Smith's Back At The Chicken Shack, for example. You won't get the same dissection and deconstruction you'll get if you play a group of jazz fans something like Miles' All Blues; on the other hand, you'll probably get everyone to agree that Chicken Shack is one hell of a party tune! One Last Stop is one hell of a collection of party tunes - all with strong ideas, good solos, and fine musicianship. But most importantly, the disc has that indefinable pulse that gets you to nod your head as you listen, even if you're not aware you're doing it.
The title track is probably the most jazz-based tune on the disc; Pray says late-'60's Coltrane inspired it, but I also felt the same swirling sensation I got from Dexter Gordon's amazing cover of Dizzy's A Night In Tunisia - a spiritual vibe, to be sure. And yet, there's this driving, nasty quality to the tune that is anything but spiritual, and it can be linked right to Dave Solazzo's burning organ that not only sets the base (and the bass) for the tune, but also gives it a Ferrari-with-no-brakes sensation that gives you two choices: Cover your eyes, or watch the scenery fly by. (Solazzo combines with fiery guitarist Tim Reyes to get the same hell-bent-for-leather feeling on the superfast Up Jump.)
After the title track, things get further from jazz and closer to R&B, and everything that that applies. Meetin' & Greetin' is a church song - or, more precisely, an after-church song, where everybody is sitting down at the table, breaking bread, and sharing in each other's company. When She Smiles (written for Pray's wife Katie) is a slow-dance love song par excellence, with references to Brook Benton's Rainy Night In Georgia and the J5's Never Can Say Goodbye mixed in with the passion Pray brings to his reedwork.
The rest of the disc is pure 60's-70's funk - the kind of good-time sound we got from James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Booker T & the MGs, and a host of other artists that make you turn up your radio to this day. Pray may be inspired by Coltrane, but I hear more of the passionate side of the saxophone (Cannonball Adderley, Maceo Parker) in both his playing and his writing. He's always got good ideas in his solos, but it's the joy with which he expresses those ideas that gets me. What also gets me is his band, who helped drive this music over two live recording dates. Reyes, Solazzo and drummer Joe Barna really stick and move, hitting you hard with one blast of funk and then dancing away to prepare for the next attack. Greg Lewis replaced Solazzo on Meetin' & Greetin' and the funked-up closer Roots, and while Lewis keeps it between the lines, he doesn't have that sense of adventure, even danger, that Solazzo's solos carry.
One Last Stop builds on the accomplishment of Oshe's The Good Book, in that a good, technically sound live recording is possible at this level. But, most importantly, it reminds us of Charles Mingus' exhortation that, in order to really feel music, you gotta get it in your soul. Amen, Keith. Amen.
J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz programming), Q104 WQBK/Albany, and WSSV/Saratoga. He has also written music and theatre reviews for the Glens Falls Chronicle. He currently resides in Clifton Park.