Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Ray Charles: Blues + Jazz [Rhino, 1994]
Jazz chops helped define Charles's singular pop identity, and he both articulated and stimulated an appetite for "soul jazz." He was a tastier soloist than such vamp merchants as Les McCann. But a pantheon jazzman he was not, and only vibraphone connoisseurs will savor all of his renowned Milt Jackson collaborations (available in toto on Soul Brothers/Soul Meeting). Highlighting combo interactions far from the big-band bombast of its dreadful opposite number, Genius + Soul = Jazz/My Kind of Jazz, the artfully configured jazz disc here includes sessions led by Charles's longtime saxophonist Fathead Newman, who did more with his jazz concept than its inventor. Charles even plays alto sax on a few cuts--damn well, for a few cuts. Redundant or not, the blues disc goes down just as smooth, epitomizing a perfect mix of downhome and citified the way the jazz one does a perfect mix of unintellectual and uncorny. Throw up your hands and buy a bunch of songs twice (or thrice). [Rolling Stone]