Ray Gaskins--A Night In the Life

This is another installment from Ray Gaskins, a prolific saxophonist/keyboardist/vocalist who came to me totally unannounced before now. In a word, I’m impressed.  The music is full-bodied, the soul is obvious, and the fact that vibist Roy Ayers was drawn to this talent’s side on this latest effort, A Night in the Life, is ample proof that the cat has earned the attention of the players in the business that, quite simply, are.

This CD comes with good choices of covers and is comfortably mellow, with blues, comely scatting, and hints of straight-ahead jazz intermixed in decent doses. There’s even some touching spiritual material (“I Want to Talk About God”) that’s truly moving and inspirational, done with that smooth jazz flair. The blues gets a visit from Gaskins with an original called “Down Home,” featuring some potent horn arrangements, especially a soul-wrenching solo demonstrating his navigational skills around the sax. 

Check out the flashy yet oh-so-jazzy manner he handles the classic “New York State of Mind” (easily my fav here), and you’re instantly reminded of the value of interpretation and self-expression. The intense bluesy presence of it all is indeed quite striking. In fact, Gaskins’ interpretations are all noteworthy here, taking aurally iconic pieces and reworking them in such palatable fashion that it becomes instantly clear that the man has the ability to reach out and feel the space for flexibility and improv in a piece. I mean, I’ve always duly noted and respected a few of these traditional and classic tunes, but never have I focused as much on them as Gaskins has made me do here. “When I Fall In Love” has as much passion and blue intensity as I’ve ever witnessed, and I’ve never heard “Summertime” grooved like this since its conception. Truly an artistic approach. Add to that his own snappy and grasping mid-tempo, blues-soaked “Shady Lane,” and I had it just the way I like it.

There may be a few tunes here that didn’t quite floor me, but for the most part, this is a well-produced effort with a lot of emphasis on interpretation and feel. The original melodies are fresh and tight; the covers are colorful; and Gaskins’ love for the blues is as evident as his love for good jazz of both the mellow and funky variety. Yes, A Night In The Life is a handsome piece of art that works for me. -- Ronald Jackson

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