David Ray Music Reviews

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"Many mandolinists have taken up the Latin torch, but few have held it as high or helped it shine more brightly than David Ray. On his debut CD, Ray pours his heart into 41 minutes of mandolin music sure to please anyone who has loved the South of the Border stylings of Mike Marshall, John Reischman and others.

The CD opens with an especially fast, difficult-sounding Latin tune, O Ôvo, that is filled with great jazz percussion. A clever arranger, Ray splices in a very nice segue to a dramatic section of mandolin and percussion alone before going back to the full band here.

Throughout this work, Ray displays a deft hand at mixing mandolin with other instruments and sounds in unique and captivating ways that somehow refrain from sounding forced or contrived. Some of that may stem from his selection of material.

There are lots of familiar tunes for fans of this style, such as Como Llora Una Estrella, a gorgeous melody that has been popularized by John Reischman in the past. But Ray's version is more languid and soothing, offering a new statement on an old theme. Farther along, we find equally smooth, well-execulted versions of two pure classics, Assanhado and Manha de Carnaval.

But there's more here than standards. Misturada is a wonderful example of how Ray skillfully blends Latin melodic structure with modern rhythmic influences, brilliantly blending in modern jazz drumming behind his staccato, angular Brazilian-scented melodic lines on mandolin.

In addition to being a top mandolinist, Ray is a highly skilled Brazilian Jazz guitarist. Ray plays beautiful nylon-string guitar leads on many cuts, making him the musical equivalent (in the studio anyway) of the acclaimed Reischman duets with finger-style guitarist John Miller, who has done so much outstanding Latin music in recent years. But again, Ray's keen sense of percussion and its effective use in an ensenble makes his work fuller and more dramatic in many ways, adding counter rhythms that add a unique propulsive drive to his best tunes, like Carnaval Llanero.

Brimming with nice touches throughout, including a clarinet on Andre de Sapato Novo that adds a nicely unique sound to the overall mix, Agradecido offers a rich musical mélange that never sounds predictable or sterile.

Ray's mandolin, a Gilchrist F5, has a fairly thin, reedy tone like he's playing with light strings, low action and a thin pick here. It's certainly not a heavy, percussive bluegrass style sound, and he almost deliberately seems to be avoiding any sonic comparispons to the deep-throated, languorous sound of Reischman's fabled F5.

In the context of this music, with its heavy use of drums and vibrant bass, though, his sound works very well for the music here, mimicking the sound of other native instruments found in South American and Latin-based musical styles.

David Ray is an exciting, thoughtful player who brings great craft and insight to his music. On this CD, he immediately steps into the foremost ranks of jazz and Latin-based mandolinists. Let's hope his first step isn't his last."

-- Mandolin Magazine  

"Agradecido, the title of David Ray's debut CD is the Spanish expression meaning "grateful." In this case it refers to David's heartfelt interest in and appreciation for Latin rhythm and its accompanying melodic tradition. Agradecido displays David's well-studied mastery of South American musical territory with fine production values and a romantic's ear for melody.

The album amalgamates Ray's knowledge of the tight traditional rhythmic cadences of Brazilian Choro music and the songs of Venezuela with aggressive and passionate picking on both familiar and less well-known tunes from these folk idioms. Everything is performed with the sincerity of an artist concerned with the authenticity of what is being delivered, yet at the same time, some semblance of his underlying knowledge of western blues, jazz, and to a lesser extent, bluegrass, find their way into this recording. Ray is ably abetted in this effort by a group of accomplished Bay Area sidemen.

Jacob Do Bandolim's "Assanhado" bounces along with a pleasant and familiar lilt, but is given a distinctive treatment here. The CD's most familiar chestnut, "Manha De Carnaval," also known as the theme from the movie Black Orpheus, is also distinctly recorded and performed.

Agradecido is a fine first effort. And aside from being a terrific collection of music, it is more than suitable as part of any romantically inclined listener's bedroom CD collection, as this music possesses the ideal sonic recipe for passionate interludes. Further explorations into the gems of Latin American traditional music are greatly anticipated from David Ray and company."

-- Monterey Coast Weekly  

"Sheer pleasure from the first few notes right up to the end of the final cut. David Ray has managed to put together a real world class ensemble for this recording and selected the perfect blend of pieces that melt into one nice big long listen.. Real musicianship on display. Bravo, David. My highest recommendation for those of you with an affinity to the music of the south with some jazz soul ranging from choro to bossa and plenty in between."

-- Mandolin Café  

"Bay area string star David Ray reincarnates Jacob do Bandolim in this polished collection of Neo-Choro. An enticing blend of modern jazz harmony with Brazilian tradition, Ray's ensemble brings Venezuelan folk music into the 21st century with a spry combination of plucked string and latin percussion instruments."

-- Jazzmando.com