Steve Davis: Update (2006)
For many years now, Steve Davis has been the torchbearer for an instrument that is often neglected among today's younger musicians. Often associated with swing and Dixieland styles, the trombone is no less a communicative voice for creative jazz expression than any other brass or woodwind instrument. Capable of using the 'bone as the sole lead instrument in a quartet or part of a larger ensemble, as when he fills out the front line for One For All, Davis has led a series of Criss Cross sides over the years that have duly demonstrated his proficiency as a trombonist, but also his immense skills as a composer.
The aptly titled Update contains a program of standards and Blue Note favorites and benefits not only from a unique ensemble makeup, but also a particularly attuned rhythm section. In the former case, Davis teams up with guitarist Peter Bernstein and the pair imbues many of the lead lines with a particularly inviting buttery smooth timbre. Just sample the pair's take on Dexter Gordon's "Fenja and you're bound to wonder why there aren't more records sporting the front line of bone and guitar. As for the rhythm section, Joe Farnsworth and Nat Reeves are long-time Davis associates, but they also recently hooked up with Anthony Wonsey for the pianist's critically acclaimed set The Thang. The connection they established through that project carries over into the current material, and one can only hope that this threesome does more work together.
Of particular interest are the two Wayne Shorter lines that Davis tackles, both of which manage to become more than retreads thanks to Davis' thoughtful approach. "Marie Antoinette is voiced for 'bone and guitar, while Davis carries "Wildflower with just the rhythm section. Both of these tunes gained much of their charm in their original incarnations due to the drumming of Elvin Jones. As such, it's worth mentioning that Farnsworth avoids copping Jones and goes for his own thing, giving these new treatments their own character.
Recently stepping up his work in the mainstream arena, trumpeter Roy Hargrove guests on a few tracks, and he fits in perfectly with Davis' approach. Be it the bop strains of "Bird Lives or the demanding structure of Herbie Hancock's "The Maze, Hargrove makes plain that he continues to be one of the best trumpeters of his generation, even if he does choose to work in various genres beyond the boundaries of jazz per se.
With Update Davis adds considerably to his already impressive body of work. Opting for a program of mainly standards could have been a risky option, leading to yet another run-of-the-mill mainstream affair. Yet Davis' choices paid off well, and in the end this rewarding Update is one of the better mainstream records of the year.
Track Listing: Marie Antoinette; Fenja; Bird Lives; Grove's Groove; The Maze; Daydream; Wildflower; Moment to Moment; Leanin' & Preenin'.
Personnel: Steve Davis: trombone; Ray Hargrove: trumpet; Peter Bernstein: guitar; Anthony Wonsey: piano; Nat Reeves: bass; Joe Farnsworth: drums.