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He's had an illustrious career since moving to New York in the mid-1980s and hitching a gig with drummer Ralph Peterson Jr. and contemporary mainstreamers Out of the Blue (OTB), but he's waited until now to release an album under his own name. An impressive résumé includes work with M-Base collective saxophonist Steve Coleman's Five Elements; performingand, on one song, arrangingcredits on singer Cassandra Wilson's Grammy Award-winning Blue Light 'Til Dawn (Blue Note, 1993); and subsequent work with artists ranging from Art Farmer and Robin Eubanks to Don Byron and Onaje Allan Gumbs. All this and more contributes to the unerring success of Kenny Davis.
At a time when many artists are distancing themselves from the American tradition, Kenny Davis remains reverential yet unmistakably modern. Davisfocusing on double-bass with a robust tone and deep, flexible sense of time rooted in bass icons like Paul Chambers and Ron Cartercontributes all but two of the album's 14 tracks, but his approach to the cover material is equally personal. Stevie Wonder's "Too High" opens with a thematically virtuosic yet effervescently swinging bass solo that, bolstered by drummer Billy Kilson's ever-empathic interaction, pushes the bar even higher than that set by the duo's fiery opening salvo, "1st Arrival." But Davis goes even further here, with an arrangement that manages to turn Wonder's already knotty tune into even greater intricacy, all the while swinging at a fast clip that challenges pianist Geri Allen and saxophonist Javon Jackson to keep up...which, of course, they do. Walter Gross' enduring "Tenderly" is taken at a more relaxed pace, but grooves no less viscerally, with a particularly potent solo from Davis' ex-OTB band mate, saxophonist Ralph Bowen.
Davis' own writing is equally compelling, and demonstrates a broad scope. "Fearless" begins with an 11/8 vamp and serpentine head yet, with Allen playing counterpoint to Bowen and guitarist David Gilmore's winding theme, it's another cooker when it gets to the solos, with the saxophonist and guitarist finding their way through Davis' sophisticated changes, anchored by the muscular rhythm team of Davis and drummer Ralph Peterson.
Onaje Allan Gumbsalso the album's producerreplaces Allen on two tracks: the balladic "Wrapped in Love," and brief closer, "Gone Too Soon"an even more poignant duet that shines a spotlight on Davis' lyrically fragile arco. Recorded as a single piece, the ostinato-driven "Journey" is broken into three interludes that peppered throughout the disc and only gradually revealing their full thematic strengthact as a unifying drawstring, creating an arc across the CD that, by its third iteration, finds bass clarinetist Don Byron and trumpeter Eddie Allen's orbiting economically around each other.
It's hard to call Kenny Davis a debut when the bassist has appeared on so many significant recordings. Still, focusing as it does on his inimitable excellence as a performer and equally compelling compositional skills, Kenny Davis is the first release to make so crystal clear how this established but, in some ways, still emerging, deserves to be watched.
Track Listing: 1st Arrival; Fearless; Deliverance; Too High; Journey (Interlude #1);
Elviry; Tenderly; Wrapped in Love; Journey (Interlude #2); Altitude;
Before Sunrise; What Lies Beyond; Journey (Interlude #3); Gone Too Soon.
Personnel: Kenny Davis: bass; Billy Kilson: drums (1, 4-10, 12, 13); Ralph Bowen:
tenor saxophone (2, 6, 7, 9, 10, 13); David Gilmore: guitar (2); Geri
Allen: piano (2-7, 9, 12, 13); Ralph Peterson, Jr.: drums (2, 3);
Javon Jackson: tenor saxophone (3, 4); Onaje Allan Gumbs: piano (8,
14); Don Byron: clarinet and bass clarinet (9, 12, 13); Eddie Alan:
trumpet (3, 12).