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The "Carn" in Carn Davidson 9 is trombonist William, the "Davidson" saxophonist Tara. They are Canadians, as are the other seven members of their Toronto-based ensemble. They are also first-class musicians, an assessment that applies as well to everyone in the Carn Davidson 9.
This is apparently the second album by the nonet, which had been together for seven years when Murphywas recorded in 2017. This new enterprise encompasses eight original compositions, four each by Carn and Davidson. They are decorous and well-written but otherwise unremarkable; in other words, there is nothing the average listener is likely to be humming after the fact. The absence of a piano or guitar for rhythmic heft, they say, presents a challenge, and it is one that is never quite surmounted.
Carn's busy opener, "Try Again," seems to tread the sort of path that Gerry Mulligan might have followed had he remained with us for the past two decades. Brass and reeds are given a vigorous workout, complementing muscular solos by Carn, baritone Perry White and bassist Andrew Downing. Davidson's alto traces the melody on her handsome "Family Portrait," on which Carn solos again and the trumpets (Jason Logue, Kevin Turcotte) blend well with Carn, Davidson and the rhythm section to shape the coda. Carn's "Glassman" probes a darker side, deepened by Emilie-Claire Barlow's wordless vocal and White's bass clarinet. As soloists aren't listed, that's either Logue or Turcotte on trumpet.
Reckoning from the jacket's illustrations, Murphy is a cat, and a rather large one at that. The first of two themes that bring him into play is Davidson's "Murphy's Law," which hurries forward behind robust statements by White and one of the trumpets. Carn's "Second Act (for Ron)" is more sedate, with a pleasing melody enhanced by Davidson's high-flying alto and splendid work by the ensemble (especially drummer Ernesto Cervini). Davidson's sunny "Reason, Season, Lifetime" (cogent solos courtesy of Davidson and tenor Kelly Jefferson) and atmospheric "Colebourn" are next up before Carn rings down the curtain with the hard-driving "Murphy!," another ardent salute to the album's namesake.
As noted, there nothing on Murphy that invites censure; neither is there anything that sets it apart from or above comparable enterprises. It is well-played, well-written and well-orderedin sum, an efficient session that never seems to rise above that. On the other hand, that is no more than one listener's opinion, and hardly the definitive paradigm.
Try Again; Family Portrait; Glassman; Murphy’s Law; Second Act (for Ron); Reason, Season, Lifetime; Colebourn; Murphy!
Tara Davidson: co-leader, alto, soprano sax, flute, clarinet; Kelly Jefferson: tenor, soprano sax, clarinet; Perry White: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Jason Logue: trumpet, flugelhorn; Kevin Turcotte: trumpet, flugelhorn; William Carn: co-leader, trombone; Alex Duncan: bass trombone; Andrew Downing: bass; Ernesto Cervini: drums. Special guest – Emilie-Claire Barlow: vocal (3).