In Robert Altman’s 1996 film Kansas City, Jesse Davis is a member of the band at a fictional Hey Hey Club where Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins battle it out for satisfaction. In the subsequent video and tour, he’s paired with fellow alto saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman, playing mostly post-bop passages and adding excitement to the jam, which still employs a 1934-ish jazz scene. Born in New Orleans and starting his professional career with Illinois Jacquet’s big band, the 34-year-old alto saxophonist was a logical choice for the Kansas City. His style of playing, which shows obvious influences from Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley and Johnny Hodges, places Davis smack dab in the middle of today’s mainstream.
Second Nature, the leader’s 7th Concord album, brings Massimo Farao’s piano trio alongside the saxophonist’s fresh, lyrical approach to a melody. Two standards, two lovely originals by the pianist, and a handful of Davis’ original compositions make for an enjoyable acoustic session. From Italy, the trio - with whom Davis tours while abroad - complements his expressive performance. It’s as if they all grew up together instead of worlds apart.
"Max the Mensch" features drummer Dall’omo. Jesse Davis sounds a lot like Charlie Parker on this one: fast and furious; comical one moment, soaring high and confidently the next. "Coffetto" is in 5/4 and cool, like "Take Five." However, unlike Paul Desmond, Davis blows with a brassy, Bird-like approach. The title track, Second Nature, captures the leader’s blues expression, recalling Cannonball Adderley.
Bass and piano solos frequent the session, always lyrical and from the mainstream. Davis sits out for "Tommaso." His tributes to Duke Ellington ("For Duke") and Louis Armstrong ("On the Sunny Side of the Street") pay homage respectfully. Carrying the straight-ahead torch, this (nearly) lifelong student of jazz continues to impress with his beautiful tone and virtuosic technique.