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Jack Davies' Flea Circus: Jack Davies' Flea Circus

Bruce Lindsay By

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It's a pity that James Brown has already laid claim to the title of Hardest Working Man In Show Business, because Jack Davies surely fits the bill to a "T." The young London-based trumpeter and writer runs his own record label, V & V, and leads three ensembles. In April 2012, he released his first three albums—one from each band, all on that label and all on the same day—thanks in part to the financial reward of winning the 2011 Deutsche Bank Award in Performance And Composition.

The Jack Davies Big Band is a 19-piece group for which Davies acts as conductor, composer and arranger. Southbound is his more exploratory quartet. Jack Davies' Flea Circus, which Davies describes as an "acoustic chamber group," is his most accessible band: a curious but always engaging mix of Bulgarian, French and North American influences melded together in a mélange of slinky grooves and romantic imagery.

So which of these can lay claim to being called Jack Davies' first release? Well, Jack Davies' Flea Circus gets the serial number VAVM0001, so it is hereby (un)officially credited as Davies' debut. It's an intriguing debut, too, with all four players sharing front line roles and rhythmic responsibilities and the mix of trumpet, clarinets, bass and accordion creating some striking harmonies.

Davies has brought together a strong ensemble. James Opstad, Flea Circus' bassist, is also a member of the Big Band: clarinetist Rob Cope is part of the Big Band and Southbound. Aidan Shepherd isn't a member of either of these two ensembles: when his accordion is to the fore he gives Flea Circus its most distinctive character.

"Zapushalka" gets things away in sprightly fashion, a medium-tempo piece with a strong East European influence. "All The Night's Adventures" epitomizes the more romantic side of Flea Circus, James Opstad's smooth bass line and Shepherd's accordion wash underpinning Davies' graceful trumpet and Cope's bass clarinet. "I Never Saw A Star So Bright" is another romantic composition featuring delightful playing from Davies and Cope, once more on bass clarinet, with a gently loping rhythm that gives the tune a faint resemblance to Astor Piazzolla's "Libertango."

The three-part "Three Miniatures" brings together yet more of Davies' disparate influences: "Monster" is a strident, threatening, stabbing tune with a contemporary classical feel; the beautiful but melancholy "So Let Us Melt" features an exceptional performance from Davies in brass band style; and Opstad and Shepherd underpin Davies' solo on "Lamp Post," the rawest and most mysterious of the "Three Miniatures."

Being hard working is fine, but unless effort is coupled with talent and inspiration it's a pretty meaningless quality in any art form. Never fear; Jack Davies' Flea Circus makes clear that Davies is inspired and talented, both as a trumpeter and a composer.

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