For guitarist/bassist/vocalist "Doc" Samuels and keyboardist Tom Woodruff, Ray's on the River was a musical home for years, during their respective stints as members of the Elgin Wells Group. Woodruff, in fact, was a member of the group for 10 of the 16 remarkable years Wells held the gig.
Later, in the mid-'90s, Samuels and Woodruff joined forces with saxophonist Larry Jackson to create the Waveform trio. It lasted a couple of years, after which Woodruff and Jackson worked frequently as a duo at Cafe 290 in Sandy Springs.
More recently, Samuels has toured with R&B show bands (the Tams, the Drifters and the Platters among them). Woodruff was on the road with the Fabulous Expressions, once known as the Swinging Medallions. Jackson was performing locally.
But in July, the trio reunited as Waveform for a five-nights-a-week gig at Ray's, an upscale seafood restaurant on the banks of the Chattahoochee in Marietta. They hope to rebuild the audience that has diminished (particularly on weeknights) since Wells left the gig early last year. To get there, Samuels has a plan: Stay away from the predictable, too-familiar standards that can make jazz acts indistinct.
"I'm not saying that the old stuff is not good," says Samuels in an interview between sets at Ray's. "It's just that it's been played to death ... the same artists, and the same tunes. We just don't want to be like everybody else."
Adds Woodruff, "[We're] an alternative for people who are tired of hearing the same tunes -- something different, for our sake, too. It's selfish, but we know people are appreciating it. So why not?"
True to Waveform's word, the audience won't hear "My Funny Valentine" or "Satin Doll" on this Thursday night -- although the band is not above doing its own re-arrangements of classic tunes. Instead, listeners are treated to a percussive, funky reading of pianist Joe Sample's "Strike Two," Bob James' dense, swirling "Lotus Leaves," Michael Franks' sentimental "Dragonfly Summer" and a handful of convincing originals. (The trio has a CD in the works, titled Third Planet on the Right, which should be out in November.) Completing the mix are jazz/R&B covers of tunes by Kenny Loggins and Eric Clapton ("If I Could Change the World").
To this array of material, Samuels brings an R&B/funk sensibility steeped in his early '70s roots with the band Ripple. The group's biggest hit, "I Don't Know What it is but it Sure is Funky," as well as some of its other recordings, have been sampled by contemporary rap and hip-hop artists, including the Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff. By contrast, Woodruff contributes a jazz fusion influence that has its roots in the work of Sample, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, to name a few.
Amid this musical brew (aided by sequenced percussion and other instruments), Jackson sits center stage with tenor, alto and curved soprano saxophones at his fingertips. He plays each as the situation dictates, but most often chooses the curved soprano sax. A predecessor to the straight soprano sax with which Kenny G has earned both fame and scorn, this diminutive instrument looks like a toy in Jackson's hands. Its sound, however, is another matter. Jackson plays with power and fluency, successfully manipulating the dynamics of the songs -- particularly the more upbeat material -- through his splendid solos.
Like many other businesses, Ray's relies somewhat on the convention trade and has suffered in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, slowing any progress Waveform had made in building an audience. But the band and the venue have made a long-term commitment, which should provide ample opportunity for stray listeners to find their way home again.
Waveform, featuring Doc Samuels, Larry Jackson and Tom Woodruff, plays Tues.-Sat. at Ray's on the River, 6799 Powers Ferry Road, Marietta. Show time is 7:30 p.m. weeknights, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. No cover. 770-955-1187. www.raysontheriver.com.
This column is a weekly feature covering music outside the Perimeter. E-mail or mail "outside" music news to Bryan Powell, 830 Josh Lane, Lawrenceville, GA 30045.