Full performer name: Barney Kessel/Shelly Manne/Ray Brown.
Personnel: Barney Kessel (guitar); Ray Brown (bass); Shelly Manne (drums).
Originally released on Contemporary (7635).
Some sixteen years after their last hit album for Contemporary, the Poll Winners reprised their intuitive, interactive approach to the modern trio with this July 12, 1975 session. STRAIGHT AHEAD is a distillation of everything they've lived since the late '50s, and while their collective infrastructure is still based in the blues, swing and bebop, they now approach their music with an ear for the rhythmic and harmonic innovations of musicians such as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Bill Evans and Wes Montgomery.
So if "Blue Boy" begins with a rhythmic vamp suggestive of a popular rock beat of the day, when the players break into their trademark 4/4 blowing section, the years melt away. Drummer Manne reacts to the jamming with a more discursive ear than would have been considered quite polite in 1959, crashing and rolling through Barney Kessel's solo, as the guitarist responds with taut Monkish dissonances and modern harmonies. Their bluesy big band intro to the theme of "Laura," followed by bassist Brown's quicksilver contrapuntal dance, is as witty as any of the jazzy reworkings of pop songs that made them famous, and Kessel takes an immense solo, nodding sagely to the ghosts of Bird and Charlie Christian, ending with a flurry of percussive chords.
As always, bassist Ray Brown is a mountain of strength and stability, a superb melodist, but first and formemost a great time player. Listen to how he steadies the disjointed themes and variations of "One Foot Off The Curb," anchoring the emotional spill-over in an enormous bell-like beat, then demonstrating a wide range of inflections and rhythmic variations--without ever relinquishing the beat. And you can just disappear in the glow of his firm, gentle long tones on the winsome "Two Cents."