Steve Davis: Portrait In Sound

Jim Santella By

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Mainstream jazz has produced quite a few superior trombonists. From early tailgate counterpoint to swing era melody maker and hard bop leader, the artist has always been able to make use of his instrument's unique characteristics. Unlike piano and vibraphone, the trombone is able to bend pitches and slide from one pitch to the next. In the early days, it was a useful gimmick. Professional players later put aside the comical aspects of the instrument in favor of better sounding tone and articulation. Eventually, a serious artist found that he could utilize the instrument's sliding effect, just a little, to work his way gracefully through melodies. By attacking each note with care and woodshedding his technique, the trombone virtuoso is able to produce vocal like phrases. The instrument is a natural tool, but it's up to the artist to find his best tone. Steve Davis, who came up under the tutelage of Jackie McLean and Art Blakey, demonstrates a respect for what a trombone can do. There are, however, a few inconsistencies.

Brad Mehldau, Avishai Cohen and Jeff Ballard help Davis to produce the album's best moments. Dancing gracefully through modern mainstream concepts, the rhythm trio sets the stage for solo improvisation. Davis, Mehldau and Cohen weave cohesive excursions that infuse deeper interest into the session.

Steve Wilson's alto sax and David Hazeltine's Fender Rhodes make "The Slowdown" an interesting change of pace. Breathy and pensive over a bouncing rhythm, Wilson and Davis shuffle their way through a cool strut. With timbres that eschew aesthetic beauty, the ensemble provides a landscape strewn with natural passion. Take a breath. Exhale. It's natural. Art comes in many forms. Tone quality, as well, comes in many shades. Davis applies more air to the formula on slower ballads. Consequently, tunes such as "Darn that Dream" and "The Slowdown" run the risk of becoming breathy and dull.

Elsewhere, the session turns up-tempo. Seven of the ten tracks are Davis' originals. When bopping in tandem with Steve Nelson's vibes, the trombonist shines brightly. Davis is in good company for his Stretch Records debut. In time, the 33-year-old New Yorker will grow, iron out all the wrinkles, and paint many more portraits in sound.

Track Listing: Portrait in Sound; I

Personnel: Steve Davis- trombone; Steve Nelson- vibraphone; David Hazeltine- piano, Fender Rhodes; Nat Reeves- bass; Joe Farnsworth- drums; Steve Wilson- alto saxophone on "The Slowdown," alto flute on "I Found You;" rhythm section on "I Found You" and "Shadows:" Brad Mehldau- piano; Avishai Cohen- bass; Jeff Ballard- drums.

Title: Portrait In Sound | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Concord Music Group


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