Tenor saxophonist Ray Blue is based out of New York who has been leading his own groups and recorded several CDs. He also has worked with such artists as Art Davis, Benny Powell, Eddie Henderson, the Charlie Persip Big Band, Wycliffe Gordon, Steve Turre, Ted Curson, and the Sun Ra Orchestra. The core band backing him on "Work" is Sharp Radway on piano, Jeff Barone on guitar, Essiet Okon Essiet on bass, and Steve Johns on drums. Also appearing are pianists Kirk Lightsey and Benito Gonzalez (each on two tracks), trombonist Ron Wilkins (on three selections), Belden Bullock on bass (one song), and Neil Clark on percussion (on three tracks).
Ray Blue is a straight-ahead saxophonist who has a warm tone and swings hard while wonderfully supported by a superior studio band. The title track is a lively Caribbean-spiced evocative of some of Sonny Rollins' compositions like "St. Thomas." As the group provides an infectious groove (aided by Clark's percussion), Blue introduces us to his velvety tone and fluid improvisation. Radway's sparkling solo follows this. There is a spirited, brief rendition of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," with Barone's horn-like guitar echoing Blue's tenor at times. Cannonball Adderly's "Sweet Emma" is taken at an appealing, lazy tempo with Wilkins adding his gruff trombone before Blue's brawny solo. Wilkins also adds his insistent trombone to the swinging interpretations of Jimmy Smith's "Mellow Mond," and George Coleman's "Amsterdam After Dark,"
Blues ballad playing is sublime as displayed his own "My Friend and I Took a Walk," with Benito Gonzalez on piano with John's brushwork exemplary. Gonzalez is also on one of two versions of "That's All," where Blue's cottony, measured playing would have brought a smile to Ben Webster. An equally marvelous rendition of this song done as a duo with Kirk Lightsey is the closing track. Lightsey and Bullock are present on a melodious ballad performance of "Teach Me Tonight."
Among other numbers here is a jaunty rendition of the old pop hit, "Our Day Will Come," and a swinging version of "Everything Happens To Me," that starts as a duet with Johns before the full band joins in. "Work" is an outstanding recording that showcases Ray Blue's marvelous, straight-ahead tenor saxophone.
I received a review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the November-December 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 387). Here is Ray Blue from 2012 performing "Work."