Jack Davies: Inventing Himself
"At the Royal Northern, they bring in guests to play with the big band and Colin was one of those," says Davies. "My big band in Manchester was doing a support set before the main gig and I asked Colin if he'd check it out. He came down and was just really lovely and helpful ever since. He's a very inspirational guy, musically and career-wise and in terms of the kind of mindset you need to do these kinds of projects. He looked at my scores before we went into the studio and made some useful suggestions'Maybe change this,' 'Don't think like this, try it this way.' And he's a massive Ellington fan. He says that if ever he's not sure he asks himself, 'what would Ellington do?' But also, he says he listens to more classical music than jazz these days. So, there's that link as well."
The second half of the CD is taken up by Davies' "1984 Suite." In less gifted hands, the composition and recording of a suite this young might seem arrogant, but Davies and his band pull it off beautifully.
"A few people have asked whether it's a programmatic work based on the book and it isn't," Davies explains. "It's more about mood. I wrote a few things quite close together when I'd just finished the book and it seemed to tie it together. So, I started to think about it as a suite. There are three band movements and two solo ones. The first of those is Joe Wright, with solo saxophone and electronics. I just gave him a rough idea that I wanted him to get from this point to that point and to do his thing and it was really perfect. He'd read the book as well and I couldn't have written it any better. The second is the passage in the book where they're in a field and think they've escaped. They think they've beaten the system and then they see a radio microphone in a hedge and see this thrush, knowing then the bird is free but they'll never be. For that bit, I robbed a Messiaen technique and transcribed a bit of thrush song. Tom Taylor, when he did his final at the Royal Northern, played some of Messiaen's solo piano pieces, so that is probably why I wrote that for him in that way."
Expectations are raised in the tracks that precede the suite, with the lovely Ives-like opener, "Entropy," a standout. "1984 Suite," however, surpasses these expectations. "Telescreen," for example, features some of the most full-blooded guitar, from Alex Munk, heard on a jazz album this year, and Jon Ormston's drums are truly heavy. As for "If There's Hope," with Joe Wright's tenor and electronics, it's bleak and yet profoundly touching as well.
After the Royal Northern, the prospect of a career in classical music was a real option, but it was jazz that beckoned. It wasn't the discipline that put him off but rather the years of feeding a very different beast before being allowed to do his own thing.
"When I was at school, I wanted to be an orchestral trumpet player, but the more I did it the more I saw how terrifying it was and that it wasn't what I was cut out to do," says Davies. "I mean, it's an incredible thing these guys do but I'm a bit too rebellious to sit in an orchestra and play music that other people have written for my whole life. I want to have a bit more control over what I'm doing."
By his second year at the Royal Northern, Davies and his friends where gigging around Manchester and the trumpeter knew where he was headed. His first stop after the RNCM was the Royal Academy of Music, just a few doors down from London's greatest venue, the Royal Albert Hall.
"It seemed really natural because there were lots of things that I didn't have together," he says. "Like we talk about language and that's a big thing for me because it wasn't part of my experience musically and I needed to know how to do it and how jazz harmony worked. So, it was incredible studying with people like Pete Churchill and Nick Smart to sort that side of things out."
With the Deutsche Bank grant in place, Davies chose to release three records in quick succession. The Big Band, we've met already. Southbound and Flea Circus are both album titles and the names of the two bands. It is here that fans get to hear the gorgeously pure, classical sound of Davies' trumpet and music of another kind altogether. After the expansiveness and rhythmic and timbral complexity of the big band, both Flea Circus and Southbound clearly owe as much to European art and folk traditions as to jazz.