CD review by Roger-Z (8/12/05)
Appeared in More Sugar, April 2006, P. 19A
You've heard of "smoothe jazz?" The Blue Rays
emit "smoothe blues!" Consisting of leader Gary Schwartz (drums, vocals), Robert Bard (bass),
Chris DiFancesco (sax, vocals), and Mark Hollenbeck (guitars, vocals), the group swings like crazy and never
fails to deliver a knockout punch. "Swingin' At The Ball," recorded live at The Poughkeepsie Tennis
Club on December 28, 2004, features a cornucopia of beats -- from rhumba, flat tire, oom pah, shuffle, slow, and
everything in between. Thanks to the finesse of drummer Gary Schwartz and bassist Robert Bard, no two songs groove
the same -- virtually unheard of from a "blues band!"
Four lead vocalists add to the listenability of this CD. Too bad the liner notes don't mention who sings
what. Between the beats and the voices, nothing stays the same for very long. On top of that,
add some tasty guitar and sax solos. Guitarist Mark Hollenbeck has honed a distinctive tone and style, accentuating
the pocket while eschewing cliches. Saxophonist Chris DiFrancesco growls like a tiger in heat.
With so many great tunes and arrangements, picking highlights presents a formidable task. "I Ain't
Lyin'" makes me laugh. The singer's take on lying closely resembles Bill Clintons convoluted definition of sex!
"Who Been Talkin'" showcases a great rhumba beat. "Koo Koo" grooves just like Peggy Lee's "Fever." "Night Ridin' Daddy"
rocks to the same rhythm as "The Beat Goes On." Can you spell "trance!" The venerable "T-Bone Shuffle" gets a swingin',
hypnotic, makeover full of interlocking guitar and sax. "Tiger Man" sports an "oom pah" beat so thick you can almost hear
the imaginary tubas.
"Swingin' At The Ball" showcases the breadth of modern blues.
Anybody who wants to learn how to play "the blues" ought to buy this CD and learn every cut.