"A FIRST" is just that -- the recorded debut of cornetist Ruby Braff and tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton, who until now could be heard collaborating only on the concert stage.

It's worth mentioning that nearly 30 years separate the birthdays of these two gentlemen -- Braff turned 60 earlier this year -- but you'd never know that by listening to these eight performances. Confident and as swinging as ever, Braff's sharp attack and elastic phrasing compliment Hamilton's lush tone and whispery lyricism to a T.

Braff is at his best when the mood is free and the interplay spontaneous, as it often is here. And he isn't averse to throwing in a few surprises every now and then, such as the brisk tempo that transforms Hoagy Carmichael's generally lazy "Rockin' Chair" into a foot tapper.

For his part, Hamilton shines brightest on ballads like "When a Man Loves a Woman," where he softly illuminates the melody. Discreet yet swinging support from pianist John Bunch, bassist Phil Flanigan and guitarist Chris Flory add much enjoyment to this collection of swing era standards, which include a few tributes to Billie Holiday, Count Basie and Lionel Hampton. -- Mike Joyce.

RUBY BRAFF & SCOTT HAMILTON -- "A First" (Concord Jazz CJ 274); Hamilton appears at Cates through June 14.