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Steve Davis: Correlations

Peter Hoetjes By

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Exploration and innovation may be the aspiration of modern jazz, but trombonist Steve Davis' Correlations exemplifies the fact that nothing proves more compelling than the timeless art of gathering a group of musicians who work remarkably well together. A veteran of The Jazz Messengers, One for All, and The Jazztet, Davis has a wealth of experience sharing the stage with multiple horns, essential to this album's sextet. His "get out of the way and let it happen" approach to band leadership pays off well with saxophonist Wayne Escoffery and trumpeter/flugelhornist Joshua Bruneau, who are backed by a rhythm section comprised of pianist Xavier Davis (no relation), bassist Dezron Douglas, and drummer Jonathan Barber.

A little over half the songs on Correlations are originals by Davis. "Subtlety" is a fairly long, meandering piece in which he stretches out to allow time for each horn player to solo, in addition to Xavier Davis who closes out the tune before the final melody is repeated. The group seems to be having genuine fun on the rollicking "Bautista's Revenge," which features a guest appearance by percussionist Cyro Baptista. The album is balanced out by just three ballads, which is expected considering the band's large horn section. Davis dedicated "Song For My Love" to his wife, which features a lush, warm melody echoed by the trombonist throughout the upbeat tune. The second is Horace Silver's much-loved "Peace," which slows to a crawl, and has Barber taking up the brush and cymbals for most of its seven minutes. "A Child Is Born" is positioned as the album's penultimate song. While it doesn't allow the attention to wander too long, the band doesn't do anything particularly memorable with Thad Jones' cherished classic.

George Cables' "Think On Me" is given a well-deserved treatment here. Originally recorded for his 1975 debut "Why Not," it's interesting to hear a large band play one of his classics besides jazz supergroup The Cookers, for whom he plays piano. The addition of horns does the song justice, while the only downside is the loss of Carl Burnette's deft and dextrous drum work on the original, which had to be cleaned out to make room for all three to solo.

It would have been a pleasure to hear more of Dezron Douglas who, possessing a deep, rich sound, is one of the most affecting and underrated bassists in the New York jazz scene, but in a group this size he is largely relegated to a backing role. That role shouldn't be underestimated however; with good speakers his clever plucking can be heard adding depth to every song on the album.

If there's a flaw to be found on Correlations, it's that with so much talent in the studio Steve Davis seems to want to make time for everybody. Unfortunately, this approach does seem to limit the adventurousness they can offer, condensing their solo opportunities into narrower window. There's a smile inducing charm that groups like this have when everything seems to be going right. Correlations' freshly minted sextet is one of the best that jazz has to offer. In a time when many musicians are attempting to relocate the genre's boundaries away from its swinging ancestry, Davis is content to assemble a top-tier band to masterfully realize that guiding principle.

Track Listing: Embarcadero; Subtlety; Bautista's Revenge; Song For My Love; Newbie; Peace; Can't Complain; Think On Me; Blues For Owen; A Child Is Born; Inner Glimpse.

Personnel: Steve Davis: trombone; Joshua Bruneau: Trumpet, Flugelhorn; Wayne Escoffery: saxophone; Xavier Davis: piano; Dezron Douglas: bass; Jonathan Barber: drums.

Title: Correlations | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Smoke Sessions Records

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