There may have been other tributes to the great Ray Charles and many of them have been true to his musical legacy, but there are few that have captured his joyous spirit better than this one by Jeff Rupert and The Flying Horse Big Band. Perhaps the sheer wall of sound with which this music on Florida assails your senses may be the reason why this music is especially impressive. A more critically important reason is probably that these musicians under the baton of Mr Rupert just seem to enjoy the immersion into Mr Charles’ music to the extent that they are able to hold a mirror up in such a manner so as to constantly reflect his genius.
The recording begins – as many a live performance by The Genius himself would – with a swinging instrumental song that rocks the house down, complete with a big church organ sound, raucous horns and shout chorus. The musicians of The Flying Horse Big Band get down to the business of bringing Ray Charles’ unique music equally evocative of church and boogieing jook joint or, as in the case of Mr Charles’ more successful years, the concert hall filled to capacity with adoring fans. To this end, Rob Paparozzi does a superb job of igniting the music with both volume and elegance – the only thing missing, of course, is the raspy eloquence of Mr Charles himself. But this in no way detracts from these interpretations as Mr Paparozzi brings his own swerving, swing to this music of which “Hallelujah I Love Her So” is a fine example.
This is a flawless album, not only as a tribute to The Genius, but also as a big band recording. The instrumentalists perform as a well-oiled would and the vocalists are uniformly brilliant. Special mention needs be made of DaVonda Simmons [brilliant on the wild blues of “Lonely Avenue”] and Khristian Dentley who is absolutely majestic on “[It’s Not Easy] Bein’ Green”. Best of all, os course is the fact that this music is buoyant, seductively persuasive and swings with aristocratic eloquence, bringing debonair virtuosity and swagger to this music. It is ravishing in its bigness, full of jazzy brilliance; a towering achievement in terms of colour and structure. An album to die absolutely die for…
Track list – 1: One Mint Julep; 2: Let the Good Times Roll; 3: Hallelujah I Love Her So; 4: I’m Movin’ On; 5: It Should’ve Been Me; 6: Lonely Avenue; 7: What I’d Say; 8: You Don’t Know Me; 9: Watermelon Man; 10: [It’s Not Easy] Bein’ Green; 11: Hit The Road, Jack; 12: Busted; 13: Unchain My Heart
Personnel – Jeff Rupert: director; Saxophones – Declan Ward: alto saxophone; Andy Garcia: alto saxophone; Ryan Devlin: tenor saxophone [soli 1, 3, 9, 10, 11]; Dylan Hannan: tenor saxophone [solo 4]; Justin Dudley: baritone saxophone; Trumpets – Marco Rivera, Matt Pieper, Kaylie Genton, Randy Le; Trombones – Jeremiah St. John: [soli 2, 5, 6]; Christian Herrera: [soli 2, 13]; Jacob Henderson: trombone; and Garrett Gauvin: bass trombone; Rhythm Section – Collin Oliver: piano and Hammond B3 organ; Carl Fleitz: piano and Hammond B3 organ; Daniel Howard: guitar [soli 1, 2, 4 – 6]; Michael Santos: contrabass and electric bass; Devon Costanza: drum set; Guests – Rob Paparozzi: vocals and harmonica [2 – 5, 11, 12]; Vance Villastrigo: vocals [5, 7, 8, 13]; DaVonda Simmons: vocals [6, 7, 11]; Khristian Dentley: vocals ; Marty Morell: percussion [9, 13]; Richard Drexler: piano [intro 10]; Vance Villastrigo: piano 
Released – 2020
Label – Flying Horse Records
Runtime – 1:00:39