Steve Davis: Images (2010)
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Images is trombonist Steve Davis' love letter to his hometown of West Hartford, CT. The ten pieces he wrote for the album, and which make up his "Hartford Suite," are all dedicated to people or places associated with this geographic region. While Davis' penchant for crisp swing and clear, lyrical lines plays a big part here, some compositional cunningand some pieces that fall outside this general areahelps to keep things from falling into a stylistic rut.
Dedicated to bassist Nat Reeves, the mid-to-up-tempo swing of "Nato" possesses a persistent, four-note figure that drops in as the parade of soloists pass along. "The Modernist" plays off of oddly placed accents, slightly obscuring an otherwise straightforward feel, while the horns stretch out over some cymbal rolls and arco bass before the music starts to cook on "Twain's World." A phrase with a cycling rhythm leads into the solos here, putting Davis and trumpeter Josh Evans in the spotlight. "J Mac's Way," dedicated to Jackie McLean, features some of pianist David Bryant's most absorbing solo work on the album, while the bass hook at the start of the waltzing "Mode For Miantonomoh" is an instant attention grabber. Bryant's zeal adds a lot to this track, bit its alto saxophonist Mike DiRubbo who is the standout soloist, showcasing his unique phrasing and style.
While the first half of the album has plenty to offer, the two tracks that seem to rise above the rest are on the latter half of the recording. Davis admittedly acknowledges the Billy Strayhorn influence on "Rose Garden," a ballad that exudes all of the tender sophistication and class associated with that genius of jazz composition. While Davis and DiRubbo carefully shape their lines to fit the song's mood, bassist Dezron Douglas provides some thick bass notes that hang, seemingly suspended in mid-air, behind them. "Park Street" has an infectiously joyous, party-like vibe, and uses a Latin groove as its rhythmic framework, set behind a 12-bar blues-like progression. All the soloists take things up a notch here, and Douglas' solo is bursting with creative energy. While familiarity with the city of Hartford would probably yield a unique appreciation for this album, the musical images presented here can easily stand on their own.
Track Listing: Nato; The Modernist; Twain's World; J Mac's World; Mode For Miantonomoh; Rose Garden; Tune For Calhoun; Park Street; Kenney's; Club 880.
Personnel: Steve Davis: trombone; Mike DiRubbo: alto saxophone; David Bryant: piano; Dezron Douglas: bass; Eric McPerson: drums; Josh Evans: trumpet, flugelhorn; Kris Jensen: tenor saxophone (10).
Record Label: Posi-Tone Records