Ruby Braff - cornet; George Barnes - guitar; Vinnie Currao - guitar; Michael Moore - bass
Formed in 1973, the Ruby Braff-George Barnes Quartet was a rich and vital partnership that lasted only two years (they recorded seven albums together between 1973 and 1975). With second guitarist Wayne Wright comping rhythmically in lockstep alongside bassist John Giuffrida's insistent quarter note pulse, the drumless group affected a kind of Hot Club of France vibe with warm-toned cornetist Braff playing Stephane Grappelli to guitarist Barnes' Django Reinhardt. Together they exchanged bristling lines and shared close harmonies, putting their own unique stamp on well-worn jazz standards. By the time of this June 29 appearance at Carnegie Hall, Wright had left the group and was replaced by New Jersey guitarist Vinnie Currao, and original bassist Giuffrida was replaced by Michael Moore. This edition of the quartet didn't record, but they carried on for six more months before disbanding at the end of the year.
They come out swinging effervescently on the Tin Pan Alley nugget "Them There Eyes," with Braff and Barnes exchanging brisk unison lines on the head. They each turn in powerful solos, with Barnes reflecting a decided Charlie Christian influence in his driving single note improvisations, before engaging in some spirited call-and-response at the end of this jaunty number from 1930 long associated with Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong. They next jump into a string of tunes from their current RCA release at the time, To Fred Astaire With Love, beginning with George & Ira Gershwin's "They Can't Take That Away From Me." Braff's playing on this ditty is relaxed and soulful, coming directly out of the Louis Armstrong school. Barnes follows with a solo that is playful yet virtuosic. The duo's playing on the beautiful Jerome Kern-Johnny Mercer ballad "I'm Old Fashioned" is similarly expressive and full of nuance. The very underrated Braff is outstanding here while Barnes dazzles on his solo, melding technical brilliance, intuitive flair and musical sensitivity. Bassist Moore is featured on another tune associated with Astaire, Irving Berlin's "Isn't It a Lovely Day to be Caught in the Rain," interpreted here as a lively mid-tempo swinger. Barnes' urgent bent-string expressions and giddy filigrees here reflect the influence of another of his six-string colleagues, guitarist and inventor Les Paul.
"Why Was I Born," a melancholy 1929 torch song composed with Jerome Kern with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, is given a new suit of clothes here with Barnes' bright, swinging arrangement. Braff shines on a strolling rendition of George & Ira Gershwin's "Nice Work If You Can Get It," with Barnes adding another of his distinctive blues-tinged solos imbued with his signature Django-meets-Les Paul filigrees. They render the Gershwins' "Love Walked In" as a gorgeous ballad, with some playful banter along the way. And they close out their Carnegie Hall concert on an upbeat note with Harry Warren's 1932 nugget, "Ooh That Kiss," the same tune that they played to open their 1973 Newport Jazz Festival performance at Carnegie Hall. Their darting harmony lines and dancing improvisations on this ebullient number capture the essence and special charm of this potent, swinging quartet that was on the scene for just a short time, like a meteor streaking across the night sky.
Guitar great Barnes made his first recordings on electric guitar in a 1938 as a musician on the staff of NBC studios in Chicago ("Sweetheart Land" and "It's a Low-Down Dirty Shame" with Big Bill Broonzy). His debut under his own name came in 1940 on the Okeh label ("I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" b/w "I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me"). Barnes recorded guitar duets through the '60s with Carl Kress and Bucky Pizzarelli. Following the quartet with trumpeter Ruby Braff, he made well-received albums with violinist Joe Venuti. His last album as a leader, Plays So Good, was recorded for Concord Jazz on April 17, 1977, just four months before his death on September 5, 1977.
Cornetist Braff, a native Bostonian and longstanding member of George Wein's Newport Jazz All-Stars, could always be counted on to deliver with typically melodic flair and a vivacious sense of swing. Born in Boston on March 16, 1927, he began working around his hometown in the late 1940s before teaming up with clarinetist Pee Wee Russell (another Newport Jazz All-Star regular from the outset of the festival). After moving to New York in 1953, Braff found work in both Dixieland and mainstream settings while also recording as a leader and with such kindred spirits as trumpeter Buck Clayton, trombonists Vic Dickenson and Urbie Green, and pianist Ellis Larkins. He worked briefly with Benny Goodman in the 1950s and by the 1960s was a fixture at the Newport Jazz Festival. After his quartet with George Barnes broke up in 1975, Braff recorded frequently through the '70s and '80s for Concord Records, often in the company of a new generation of straight ahead players, including tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton and guitarist Howard Alden. His prolific output continued into the '90s for the mainstream New York-based label, Arbors Records. Braff died in his home in Chatham, Massachusetts on February 10, 2003. (Milkowski)