Charles, Basie Big Band Play Posthumous Gig
Producer Gregg Field says that creating the new Ray Charles album "Ray Sings, Basie Swings," due Oct. 3 from Concord Records and Starbucks Hear Music, was "like painting the Sistine Chapel with a Q-tiProducer Gregg Field says that creating the new Ray Charles album "Ray Sings, Basie Swings," due Oct. 3 from Concord Records and Starbucks Hear Music, was "like painting the Sistine Chapel with a Q-tip."
As technically seamless as it is swinging and soulful, this astonishing record mates concert vocals by the late R&B titan Charles, who died in June 2004, with newly recorded studio performances by the Count Basie Orchestra. Basie died in 1984, but his famed big band continues to tour and record, directed by Bill Hughes.
Charles and Basie never recorded together, but they often shared stages. A tape reel labeled "Ray/Basie" unearthed in the Concord/Fantasy vaults in Berkeley, Calif., originally was thought to be the product of a collaborative show, but it proved to be a live shot from an unknown date in the mid-'70s by Charles and his working band, with a separate Basie set.
The discovery fired the idea to build a posthumous partnership between the late singer and Basie's group. "(Charles') performances were more compelling," Field says. "It's much more deep-rooted. ... We were able to bring back a moment in Ray Charles' life when he was at the peak of his singing powers."
While the singing was strong on the tapes, the band and Charles' comping and soloing were dim. So, in a reversal of the normal recording process, new arrangements (painstakingly synched to the singer's off-meter delivery) were forged for the Basie group, while pianists Shelly Berg and Jim Cox replicated Charles' original keyboard work.
The finished product features powerful Charles vocals on such standards from his book as "Let the Good Times Roll," "Georgia on My Mind" and "I Can't Stop Loving You" over soaring Basie charts. "You've got the intensity of Ray, and a pristine recording of Count Basie's band," the producer says.
For Field, the project serves as the answer to a longtime question. "I worked for both these guys in my 20s," he says, "and more than once I thought, I wonder why these guys never worked together."