We won't celebrate the centennial of Count Basie until 2004, but Tuesday night at One Step Down, legendary bassist Ray Brown jump-started the festivities with a rousing set that featured three songs from the Basie songbook. Along with pianist Geoff Keezer and drummer Karriem Riggins, Brown swung, swaggered and strutted with the gutbucket feeling befitting the Kansas City sound.
On Basie's lovely ballad "Little Darling," Brown gave the melody a deep massage that was utterly sensual, while Keezer and Riggins accompanied with regal sophistication. Riggins took center stage on "Lester Leaps In," enlivening the hopping classic with an incendiary extended solo. At the beginning of "Captain Bill," Brown unleashed one of those patented blues-drenched solos where he masterfully improvised on the melody before giving way to a simmering bop excursion.
Aside from the Basie tunes, the trio gave a rousing take on "Blue Monk" that, thanks to Keezer's rollicking playing, transformed the tiny jazz club into a smoldering backwoods juke joint. Keezer, an exceptional and shamefully underheard pianist, draws heavily on the brawny sounds of Memphis's jazz tradition. His ability to infuse house-quaking blues figures with off-kilter phrases and dissonant chords incited many audience members to holler an "Amen!" on the seductive "But Not for Me" and the infectious "Brown Bossa."
Throughout, the trio concocted a spellbinding chemistry best illustrated in the wry reading of the patriotic classic "America," on which Brown and Keezer engaged in a haunting duet before Riggins joined in for a heated workout.