After hearing Roanoke, Va., pianist Lenny Marcus’ infectious self-produced “Sun Ray,” you may find yourself searching used record and CD bins and online sources for albums by Ray Bryant.
Bryant, who died in June 2011, was a blues- and gospel-oriented pianist with a strolling sense of rhythm, a thumping left hand and a way of beefing up his chord voicings without becoming too heavy or dense. As one of Bryant’s students years ago, Marcus absorbed these lessons thoroughly and applies them to palpable advantage throughout “Sun Ray.”
Marcus lived in North Carolina in the early 1990s, when he first connected with bassist Rick Eckberg and Raleigh drummer (and former owner of the Frog and Nightgown nightclub) Peter Ingram.
Eckberg, now a Hillsborough resident, appears throughout “Sun Ray,” except for two tracks on which he is replaced by John Brown, who heads the jazz program at Duke University. Ingram appears on the two tracks with Brown: the title track (by Marcus) and Bryant’s “Threesome.” Larry Scott is the drummer on the remaining 12 tracks.
Guitarist Cyrus Pace, tenor saxophonist and flutist Tom Artwick, trumpet and flugelhorn player Scott Walter and percussionist Vladimir Espinosa also perform on various cuts.
Eight of the tunes are by Bryant, and they are mostly major-key or minor-key blues or blues-related tunes, often with call-and-response patterns in the melody.
These, Marcus’ three compositions (the title tune, “Downside Up” and “The Early Years”) and the remainder of the set inspire the kind of rhythmically inviting, soulful, down-home performances that helped to sustain jazz in neighborhood clubs of the 1950s and into the ’60s.
Marcus and company are to be commended for getting inside the soul of Bryant’s style and conveying (in the words of the Horace Silver tune) “that healin’ feelin’.”
Marcus’ “Distant Dream,” which he calls “a funky... type album (with) lots of grooves (but) not real straight-ahead jazz,” was released simultaneously with “Sun Ray.” Both are available from lennymarcusmusic.com.
Correspondent Owen Cordle