Guitarist Ray Crawford, best known for his associations with pianist Ahmad Jamal and organist Jimmy Smith, only led one session in his early years. Because the Candid label soon went bankrupt, the set went unreleased altogether until this 1988 CD. Comprised of five Crawford originals, the session finds the guitarist playing fairly advanced hard bop with trumpeter Johnny Coles, baritonist Cecil Payne (in top form), pianist Junior Mance, bassist Ben Tucker, and drummer Frankie Dunlop. Everyone sounds fine, making one regret that this set fell between the cracks for so many years.
When tuberculosis forced Ray Crawford to give up his gig playing tenor sax and clarinet in Fletcher Henderson’s band of the early 1940’s, he decided to switch to guitar. Ray became an important cog in pianist Ahmad Jamal’s early groups and his unique, percussive style was soon appropriated by other guitarists including the great Herb Ellis. Ray went on to record with Gil Evans towards the end of the 1950’s, and after settling in Los Angeles he started to work for the legendary organist Jimmy Smith — an association that would last well into the 1980’s.
Midnight Ramble, released in 1983 on Milestone, was saxophonist Hank Crawford's return to recording after a four-year break following his departure from Kudu. It was the beginning of a decades-long relationship with the prestigious jazz label. Crawford, a veteran of Ray Charles, had long been associated with soul-jazz groove-oriented music. On this date, he delivers a solid, straight-ahead session with some notable surprises. The first is that he plays not only his trademark alto saxophone, but also electric piano. Next is his rhythm section: Dr. John on piano and organ, Charles "Flip" Greene on bass, guitarist Calvin Newborn (brother of Phineas), and stone-cold soul-jazz drummer Bernard Purdie. But that isn't all. Crawford also includes five other horns: two trumpets, trombone, bass saxophone, and David "Fathead" Newman on tenor. Needless to say, Crawford's idea of "straight-ahead" still contains plenty, plenty soul. The program is solid, top to bottom; it's amiable, relaxed, and deeply rooted in the blues.
Altoist Hank Crawford teams up with pianist/organist Dr. John on this accessible and enjoyable soul-jazz outing. Crawford made quite a few CDs in this format for Milestone during the 1980s, using a funky four-piece rhythm section and a small horn section to play recent originals and a few vintage classics. Highlights of the above-average effort include "For the Love of You," "K.C. Blues" and "Trouble in Mind."
Recorded when he was 63, After Dark finds Hank Crawford excelling by sticking to what he does so well: uncomplicated, blues-drenched, gospel-minded soul-jazz. Warmth and accessibility continued to define the veteran alto saxophonist, who sounds like he's still very much in his prime on everything from "Amazing Grace" to W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues" and the standard "T'aint Nobody's Business If I Do." Crawford reminds us how appealing and sentimental a ballad player can be on "That's All," and he demonstrates that Ruby & The Romantics' early-1960s soul-pop gem "Our Day Will Come" can work quite well in a jazz setting. The saxman's noteworthy support includes producer Bob Porter (who, true to form, is smart enough to step aside and let Crawford do his thing), guitarist Melvin Sparks and drummer Bernard "Pretty" Purdie. It's been said that Crawford is jazz's equivalent of a charismatic soul singer like Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye or his former employer Ray Charles, and After Dark makes it very hard to disagree with that assertion.
Feelings run high about Nigel Kennedy, the bad boy of the violin (he's started using his first name again, if you hadn't heard). On the cover of this collection, he's pictured with red and blue paint on his unshaven face, biting the side of his violin for one reason or another. But Nigel Kennedy's Greatest Hits points to what has really always been the ironic thing about Kennedy – when it comes to the music, he's quite un-outrageous.