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CD Review: Keith Pray 

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Capital Region native Keith Pray has played with Paul Anka, the Temptations, and Ray Vega, and was a featured soloist on Entres Amigos, the Grammy-nominated album by Alex Torres and the Latin Kings. Despite his growing national reputation, Pray still has a presence in his home jazz scene, and locals have a chance to see the burly saxophonist once a month when he leads the 17-piece Big Soul Ensemble at Tess’ Lark Tavern in Albany. This new disc by the 34-year-old, made with his band the Soul Jazz Revival, demonstrates what all the excitement is about.

The live, five-song album is stocked with explosive energy and top-notch musicianship, featuring superb players doing what they do best: playing free. There’s a touch of funk and R&B sprinkled in, but make no mistake, traditional jazz is the core. This is evident right from the start, as Pray offers an inventive, throaty solo on the CD’s title track. Guitarist Tim Reyes burns through an ascending solo of his own with chops and phrasing to spare, before returning the tune to its anxious melody.

With technique and nuance, Pray’s tenor and alto axes assume the foreground, but it’s the meaty Hammond B3 organ of Dave Solazzo and Greg Lewis that sets the tone throughout. Guitarist Reyes is on fire in “Up Jump,” and again in “Roots,” with its delicious late-’70s vibe. Drummer Joe Barana swings throughout.

Pray has a Cannonball Adderly aggressiveness, with Maceo Parker’s sense of melody. He makes respectful nods to the greats while looking firmly to the future. Don’t miss this one.

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