Considering Steve Davis’ nine-months-a-year commitment to Chick Corea and Origin and his ongoing participation in the cooperative band One For All, one might think that his fourth recording as a leader for Criss Cross would sound like a blowing date. It’s quite the opposite. Despite the fact that Vibe Up! was recorded in a single session, the music is well organized as well as thoroughly enjoyable.
With the exception of three cuts with alto saxophonist Mike DiRubbo, the front line consists of the leader’s trombone, guitarist Peter Bernstein, and the vibes of Steve Nelson. This somewhat unusual combination of instruments blends surprisingly well, because of Davis’ tasteful arrangements of mostly his own compositions, and his willingness to sacrifice the spotlight in favor of a balanced ensemble sound. The same democratic approach applies to the solo space, in which everyone (including pianist David Hazeltine, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Joe Farnsworth) gets ample opportunities to shine and they all make the most of it.
Although Davis’ solo turns are by no means extensive, they are unhurried, well constructed, and soulful. On Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere,” he burns through the tempo changes of David Hazeltine’s fine arrangement with ease. During Thad Jones’ ballad, “The Summary,” Davis leaves the improvisation to Washington and Hazeltine, but his playing of the tune’s melody is pure beauty.
The drumming of Joe Farnsworth deserves special mention. His crisp-sounding drums and cymbals animate the entire disc. A four-note snare and bass drum figure behind Bernstein’s solo on Davis’ “Blue Domain” creates suspense in what might otherwise be a mundane funk rhythm. Similarly, his penchant for expertly executing light, on-the-beat cymbal crashes adds both color and drive. Most of all, Farnsworth has a remarkable rapport with Hazeltine, especially on the title cut, where their playing has a delightful, conversational quality.
Track List: Vibe Up!; It’s The Little Things That Count; Somewhere; Blue Domain; The Summary; Three-Way Street; Tournesol; Mode For Damo.