Jeff Ray is pretty much an unknown, to me anyway, but his playing brings to mind a veteran of the music scene who feels comfortable with what’s out there, but still forges his own identity. From press materials and his website, I’ve been able to discern he grew up in Toledo, Ohio, and now lives in Harlem.
The music here is a mixture of jazz, funk, and R&B. His use of dynamics, both as a composer and a player, is wonderful. The laid back funk of tunes like “Streams” is deceptive at first because you fall into the groove with the musicians. By the time Jeff is ripping through some changes in a fire-breathing solo, you realize you’ve been had. In a good way, of course.
And that’s just the start. The moody “D.R.A” features great volume swells and wonderful changes. “Hoodwink” is a tune that combines elements of James Brown and ’70s fusion. You get the whole works here: lots of neat changes; a statement of melody with some very smooth octaves; and some textbook wah work on the solo. “Wise Ton J” is a sort of island-funk, for lack of a better word. Jeff’s solo is pushed by wonderful rhythm section work. It’s clean, soulful, and tasty guitar work.
The band deserves some mention here, too. Like I said, dynamics are a nice part of this music, and bassist Darryl Hall, drummer Victor Wise, and Aaron Swinn on Hammond B-3 and Rhodes, help define that sound.
This is a fine record. Fans of folks like Larry Carlton and John Scofield should enjoy it. That said, Jeff appears to be well on his way to carving out his own niche in the jazz guitar field, without leaning on the influence of others.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Feb. ’04 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.