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Jesse Davis, one of the country's finest post-Cannonball boppers, plays with splendid precision on First Insight, all of whose nine compositions he wrote - but I can remember his having played with more intensity on other occasions (High Standards, for example, or From Within). While there is warmth peeking through here from time to time, the session seldom catches fire. One problem lies with the rhythm section, especially Miller's forceful piano, which is too conspicuously front-and-center (Carter's bass, which is generally well-recorded, is often overwhelmed by drums and piano). Another is Davis's tunes, only one of which - the ballad "Midnight Blue" - has enough staying power to remain long in one's memory bank and whose improvisational aspect is left largely in Miller's hands. But much of the reason for the failure to enkindle rests with Davis, whose enlivening moments are limited primarily to "J's Idea," wherein the resemblance to Cannonball's unerring sense of swing is most readily apparent. One innovation here is Jesse's tongue-in-cheek vocal on "A Funny Thing" (which encompasses Carter's lone solo). Although the lyric begins, "It's a funny thing, I can't sing," he's actually pretty good in an undomesticated sort of way. The fast-paced closer, "Donkey Stomp," is another instance in which Davis fails to take full advantage of the possibilities, depressing the proper keys but constructing no more than a couple of fairly respectable choruses, as is the case on most other numbers. Perhaps Jesse has set the bar too high, or perhaps one expects too much of him based on his previous recordings. But again, this is merely one listener's subjective opinion. What can be said objectively is that Davis and his sidemen are technically sound, they play well together, and that First Insight is in several instances an admirable blowing session. Others may find more depth and satisfaction within its 61-minutes-plus playing time. As for me, I'd rate it a notch or two below Davis's earlier work.
First Insight; Nola; A Little R & R; B.Y.O.G.; Midnight Blue; J's Idea; A Funny Thing; Jetlagged; Donkey Stomp (61:34).
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.