After four unique and striking dates as a leader for Criss Cross , trombonist Steve Davis has made the switch to a stateside label with Portrait in Sound, recorded for boss Chick Corea’s Stretch subsidiary. Building solidly on his track record, this new endeavor presents not only Davis the trombonist but also Davis the gifted arranger and writer. With buddies from the hard bop collective One For All on hand (Hazeltine and Farnsworth) and vibraphonist Steve Nelson a holdover from the last Criss Cross side, Vibe Up!, Davis presents a personalized calling card that accurately spotlights his strengths.
Among many points of interest, standouts have to be “A Bundle of Joy” and “Samba D.” The former is a waltz tempo with a highly attractive melody line, while the latter is in a Latin vein. Both are examples of the kind of long forms that distinguish Davis’ compositions. Instead of routine 32 bar structures with a straight swing throughout, Davis sagaciously allows the melodic line to dictate the harmonic and formal structure while permitting changes in rhythmic feel within the piece. One of his most attractive works, “I Found You” takes on a new look when compared with the version that appeared on a Jackie McLean album of a few years back. In this incarnation a lilting bossa groove is added and Steve Wilson’s alto flute takes up the lead with Davis.
It should come as no real surprise that the interplay among Davis and his crew is of a first class nature. These guys have worked together often and have developed a level of communication that only comes through familiarity. Even with the guest appearances on a few tracks, there’s a cohesiveness here that provides testament to Davis’ skills as a bandleader. In addition, it’s men of this ilk that seem to be keeping the mainstream jazz tradition alive and thriving and for that we owe them our gratitude.
Track Listing: Portrait in Sound, I
Personnel: Steve Davis- trombone, Steve Nelson- vibes, David Hazeltine- piano & Fender Rhodes, Nat Reeves- bass, Joe Farnsworth- drums, Steve Wilson- alto saxophone & alto flute (track 4 & 9 only), Brad Mehldau- piano (tracks 3 & 9 only), Avashai Cohen- bass (tracks 3 & 9 only), Jeff Ballard- drums (tracks 3 & 9 only)