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Caroline Davis: Live Work & Play

Mark F. Turner By

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It's easy to become jaded in an ocean of music where many recordings sound so much alike. But every now and then something piques even great curiosity, as is the case with Live Work and Play , the captivating debut by saxophonist/composer Caroline Davis. Her abilities as a musician and leader signal not just another new voice, but one that is acutely focused, reminiscent of another striking female Chicagoan, saxophonist Matana Roberts.

The factors that have shaped Davis come out of seminal experiences: she was born in Singapore to European parents, and was raised in Atlanta, Georgia, where she grew up listening to gospel and R&B. It could be her academic achievements—degrees in Psychology and a Ph.D in Music—the late night jam sessions at the New Apartment Lounge with esteemed saxophonist Von Freeman, or finding inspiration from guitarist Bobby Broom's trio at Chicago's Pete Miller's Steakhouse.

In the end, it's not only Davis's soulfully fluent playing that resonates, but also her tightly knit quartet, which works through cerebral originals like the swinging opener "Kowtow" and the groove-aesthetic of "Passive Cloud," as well as the bright re-envisioning of Billy Strayhorn's "Blood Count." In each case, these consummate musicians— longtime Von Freeman guitarist Mike Allemana and the equally potent rhythmic core of bassist Matt Ferguson and drummer Jeremy Cunningham—deliver inventiveness and vigor.

Whether working through the melody changes in "Dionysus," tinted by Allemana's undulating tremolo and echo effect colors; getting some soulful blues swagger in the "Real Rims, For Kalvin" (part 3 of Davis's "Rims" mini-suite); or swinging true on Charlie Parker's "Cheryl," the quartet is inspired and articulates the striking art of jazz. Allemana's contribution is noteworthy; he's the perfect foil for Davis' expressive horn and delivers some killing solos, as do the other band members. His "Academic Freedom Suite, Part 1" is one of the album's many bright spots—a slow- tempered theme which ignites into a firestorm showing his copacetic chops and some of Davis's most fervent playing.

Live Work and Play is totally fresh debut and highlights Davis as a gifted and empathetic player who warrants a closer look.

Track Listing: Kowtow; Passive Cloud; Blood Count; Dionysus; Old Rims; Shiny Rims; Real Rims, For Kalvin; Craftsmanship and Emptiness, For Rumi; The Academic Freedom Suite, Part 1; Cheryl.

Personnel: Caroline Davis: alto saxophone; Mike Allemana: guitar; Matt Ferguson: bass; Jeremy Cunningham: drums.

Title: Live Work & Play | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: ears&eyes Records

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