Jack Davies: Inventing Himself
"I suppose with Flea Circus the most obvious influence is Dave Douglas," Davies explains. "His records Charms of the Night Sky (Winter&Winter, 1998) and A Thousand Evenings (RCA/Bluebird, 2000) have a very similar band of trumpet, violin, accordion and bass. My thing is more classical than his because he has come so much more out of the jazz tradition, but I really like the older European jazz tradition as well. It's really taken forty or fifty years for Europe to come to terms with what it was doing back in the forties, which is being in touch with a tradition that is closer to its own folk music, and I think that's really interesting. I enjoy those sounds and it feels natural for me. Flea Circus was a big turning point for me in having a band where I wasn't trying to do jazz mode or classical mode but it was more like a play. I would write things that contained elements of both, bits of improvising perhaps alongside things that were more classically phrased."
And yet, Douglas also references Webern and Stravinsky as informing his work.
"Yes that's true but, with Dave Douglas, he's quite clear that he's an American and grew up in that tradition playing with [pianist] Horace Silver's band," Davies responds. "It's a real living link. Whereas with meif I'm honestit's been half-and-half during my development. I definitely feel closer to jazz but I don't feel as tied to the American jazz tradition as some people. It's a beautiful thing but it's not really where I'm coming from."
Again, even a cursory listen to Southbound confirms a similar European art music feel. Here, however, there are echoes of something older in the forms the group uses.
"Well, we all met at the Royal Northern studying classical music," Davies explains. "We all bring compositions along because we found that the most natural place for it is with compositions and then improvisation around it. There was a chamber music module at the Royal Northern and we used to do that band for that. Maybe you can hear some of that [laughs]. Obviously, we don't claim to be a classical chamber group."
But listening to Southbound, there are hints or echoes of early music and the baroque era.
"With Southbound, we use very simple harmony," he continues. "Everything is written contrapuntally and, with the improvisations, there are no chord symbols. So, it's conceived more within a classical way of thinking about things, anyway. That's something going back to very early counterpoint, things like Palestrina, which is in line with what some other 21st century composers are doing as well. That's probably why it sounds more from that place. And Tom Taylor, the pianist, the big influence on him comes from contemporary classical composers."
Flea Circus is a lovely record on which Davies' beautifully controlled tones combine to perfection with Rob Cope's clarinet, Aidan Shepherd's accordion and James Opstad's double bass. Rich in atmosphere, it is one of those albums that has its own sense of time and place. Southbound is another kind of creature again. In some ways, approached from a jazz point of view, it's the more difficult of the three releases. But it's also an intriguing set, one that seems to suggest whole new vistas for the group, and for Jack Davies, in each of its nine sketches. Davies's vision for his music is already remarkably mature but one of the most exciting aspects of his work to date is the myriad possibilities that each record contains for his future development. There's no doubt that that crucial jazz impulse is present in Davies. He will continue to invent and reinvent himself; though, for the present, it's a time for taking stock and reflection.
"At the moment, I'm enjoying doing some gigs," he says. "I want to let the music develop and write some more and see where that goes. Already, for the big band CD launch, I'd written a few new things I was really happy with, which I feel have gone up a level in my writing. The more I do, the more I hear the band, the more I learn from it. I think I need a year and, once I feel ready, maybe do another one. It's just a really exciting thing to write for. There's so much you can do with it with so many amazing people in it. Then as far as my own playing goes, a similar thing really. Play and when I feel I've got something clear and different to say, I'll do another record."
Page 3: Tony Sleep
All Other Photos: Courtesy of Jack Davies