This was Ray Barretto's last album, recorded exactly a month before he suffered a heart attack that contributed to his death in February 2006. Sadly, it would also be one of pianist Hilton Ruiz's final sessions, for he passed away in June 2006 under mysterious circumstances. As such, it is poignant that both of these open-minded Latin jazz musicians would be looking backwards at this stage, for Standards Rican-ditioned is an album of standards recorded in an old-fashioned, straight-ahead style. This CD reverts back to a formula that Blue Note, Riverside and Prestige sometimes pursued in the middle of the 20th century: set a straight-forward, hard bop rhythm and accent it lightly with congas. As Barretto knew so well from long experience in the studios back then, the result is a straight-ahead collection with an extra zing -- and at 76, Barretto had plenty of perfectly accented zing left. He gets capable soloing out of his frontline -- David Sanchez on tenor and Papo Vazquez on trombone -- together on "Suddenly It's Spring" and "Baby, Baby All the Time" (with Vazquez growling on a plunger mute in the latter) and separately on the other tunes. Ruiz offers a rhapsodic, nearly symphonic solo rendition of the Ellington/Strayhorn "Something to Live For," and Ray's son Chris Barretto appears on alto in "Trav'lin Light" and "Brandy's Blues." Chris also plays a crucial role in the album's last track, "Strange Music," that rarely-covered, syrup-coated Robert C. Wright and George Forrest reworking of Edvard Grieg. Ray entered the hospital on the day he was scheduled to overdub his congas on the track, so Chris went in after his father's death and taped the conga part quite competently himself. But Ray Barretto isn't entirely absent, for you can hear his scat vocals outlining the conga rhythm he wanted. Thank goodness they kept this in; it adds a jaunty parting touch from the conga master.
TRACK LISTING: 1. Lean on Me 2. Trav'lin' Light 3. Ivy 4. Suddenly It's Spring 5. I Had the Craziest Dream 6. Something to Live For 7. Baby All the Time Baby 8. Brandy's Blues 9. Strange Music