Whitney Balliett once wrote, "good musicians do not copy their elders; they only use them as primers." These are words to keep in mind while listening to Jon Davis' Happy Juice, a ten track recital that acknowledges a number of modern jazz piano masters (Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans, Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, Keith Jarrett, and Red Garland) in terms of material and methods yet deftly eschews the weight of any single influence. Davis' style is at once pleasurable, mysterious, demanding, and familiar. Minor skirmishes between the left and right hands are settled amicablyor, not at all. Sometimes twisted, lopsided phrases and somewhat muted chords are inserted into otherwise straightforward lines. Davis swings (and executes other grooves) in a fairly conventional manner, but often gives the impression of stretching and contracting time, while bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Mark Ferber ably hold down the fort.
Throughout solos on the title track (Davis' composition) and Corea's "Tones For Joan's Bones," he's something of a master chef, constantly adding more exotic spices without making the dish unpalatable. Let your attention wander for a few seconds at the risk of discovering that he's moved on to somewhere else entirely. Davis' introductions to his "Bred On Red" and Jarrett's "Rainbow" are a study in contrasts. "Bred" thrives in a somewhat uneasy state, a series of riddles with no answers that nonetheless contain a connecting thread, several notes struck with an air of finality, until he finally shifts into something more congenial. "Rainbow" begins in a graceful, flowing, storybook manner befitting an evolution into a courtly waltz.
The leader's "As We Know" and Tyner's "Search For Peace" are given gospel-tinged treatments in odd meters. Throughout "As We Know" single notes and chords collapse against one another in companionable ways. Davis manages to wax soulful and friendly while remaining somewhat elusive. "Search" retains a solemn flavor even while Davis presses forward. Ferber's press rolls add a touch of grit to the head; near the track's end he spills and scatters rhythms around the leader's piano.
Jon Davis proves that the established practices of significant modern jazz pianists can still serve as the raw material for resourceful individuals intent on forging their own paths. Happy Juice is a bracing, highly enjoyable recording.
Happy Juice; Slant Six; The Two Lonely People; As We Know; Tones For Joan's
Bones; Bred On Red; Speak Like A Child; Search For Peace; Mostly Minor;
Jon Davis: piano; Boris Kozlov: bass; Mark Ferber: drums.
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