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Jesse Davis: Live at Smalls Jazz Club

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Jesse Davis: Live at Smalls Jazz Club
Alto saxophone master Sonny Stitt always chafed when he was called "little Bird," a reference to the greatest alto of them all, Charlie Parker. "I'm not a little Bird," he would say, "I'm me; Sonny Stitt." In similar fashion, Jesse Davis would probably shrug off any comparison to another of the instrument's esteemed patriarchs, the late Julian "Cannonball" Adderley. Even so, such a connection is hardly misplaced. To some ears, Davis is the nearest thing to Cannonball since...well, Cannonball himself.

That is not by design, as Davis is definitely his own man. But in terms of tone, technique, creativity and perception, Davis could easily warrant the nickname "little Cannon." Unlike Adderley or Stitt, however, his name is seldom mentioned when those of the most renowned alto saxophonists are debated. This despite the fact that Davis has been a dynamic force on the jazz scene for over forty years. He is a monster player who simply happens to sound—and improvise— a lot like Cannonball Adderley. Perhaps the relative lack of recognition and appreciation can be ascribed in part to the fact that Davis has made his home in Italy for more than two decades.

On his latest album, Live at Smalls Jazz Club, recorded in February 2022, Davis is backed by Spike Wilner's working trio—Wilner, piano; Peter Washington, bass; Joe Farnsworth, drums—in a session that comprises four jazz evergreens, a trio of standards from the Great American Songbook and one lesser-known but no less charming theme, "Cup Bearers." Jimmy Heath wrote the opening "Gingerbread Boy," Lee Morgan the lovely "Ceora," Horace Silver the scampish "Juicy Lucy," Thelonious Monk the quirky "Rhythm-a-Ning." The standards are "These Foolish Things," Victor Young's "Street of Dreams" and Cole Porter's "Love for Sale."

Like Adderley, Davis takes pleasure in performing arduous and dazzling runs up and down the horn; like Adderley, he delights in borrowing brief phrases from other songs to enrich his already tantalizing ad-libs; and like Adderley, he is never at a loss for a suitable proviso or discourse. By now the point has surely been made; namely that, comparisons aside, Davis is one of the more eloquent and enterprising alto saxophonists on the contemporary scene.

Of course, even the best players cannot do it alone, which is where Wilner, Washington and Farnsworth come in. Whenever Davis needs a helping hand, he has not one but six of the best, ready and able to do whatever is needed to ensure his success. And yes, they are impressive soloists as well. While the album's sound and balance are splendid, if it was recorded, as advertised, at Smalls Jazz Club, the venue must have been devoid of paying customers, as there is no applause or any other sound during or after each number. It is basically a studio session recorded at a club. Even so, Live at Smalls Jazz Club is by any measure a superior album, thanks to the singular talents of Davis and his bandmates.

Track Listing

Gingerbread Boy; Ceora; Cup Bearers; These Foolish Things; Juicy Lucy; Rhythm-a-Ning; Street of Dreams; Love for Sale.

Personnel

Album information

Title: Live at Smalls Jazz Club | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Cellar Records


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