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It's great to see a good guy with loads of talent get a chance to make a name for himself. Although that may not seem like the most objective thing for a music reviewer to say, the fact of the matter is that this reviewer has been a fan of trombonist/composer Steve Davis for some time now and is glad to see that his string of Criss Cross successes, work with the cooperative One for All, and highly-visible gig with Chick Corea's Origin has brought him more regard lately from both jazz followers and critics.
While many may be aware of Davis' handling of the trombone, skills that mark him as one of the finest Curtis Fuller disciples of his generation, more folks need to take heed of his way with the pen. It's his writing that finds Davis right smack in the position of first place in regards to talent deserving of wider recognition. And while his last Criss Cross affair, Crossfire may have been weak in regards to its share of originals, Vibe Up! sports five Davis- penned tunes out of a total of eight. In keeping with an idea practiced on his three other Criss Cross sides, he also opts for a new ensemble sound, this time spelling additional horns for a front-line that includes vibraphonist Steve Nelson and guitarist Peter Bernstein. Rounding things out are Davis' One For All rhythm partners- pianist David Hazeltine, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Joe Farnsworth.
The title track kicks things off on a positive note. Following a rubato opening statement, the lead melody goes through several rhythmic feels as it slinks its way around its unusual 52-bar chorus. Davis' other contributions also manage to find new roads to familiar destinations, with "Blue Domain," the dandy waltz "Tournesol" and a winding "Mode for Damo" all gaining added brilliance through the addition of altoist Mike DiRubbo.
Other highlights include a gorgeous ballad statement from Davis on Thad Jones' "The Summary," Bernstein's challenging "Three-Way Street," and David Hazeltine's keen arrangement of another Bernstein's (this time it's Leonard) "Somewhere." I don't know how Hazeltine does it, but much in the same way he has taken tunes like "I Say a Little Prayer" and Earth, Wind & Fire's "Reasons" and given them new life, so too does "Somewhere" emerge with a successful make-over. So is the "vibe" up? You better believe it!
Track Listing: Vibe Up!, It's the Little Things That Count, Somewhere, Blue Domain, The Summary, Three-Way Street, Tournesol, Mode For Damo (63:11)
Personnel: Steve Davis- trombone, Steve Nelson- vibes, Peter Bernstein- guitar, Mike DiRubbo- alto saxophone (tracks 4,7, and 8 only), David Hazeltine- piano, Peter Washington- bass, Joe Farnsworth- drums
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