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Steve Davis: Correlations


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: Steve Davis: Correlations
Surely it must be considered a milestone to chalk up Correlations as Steve Davis' 20th session as a leader. Just contemplate how much the world has changed since the trombonist started turning heads as a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers back at the start of the '90s. The record business in particular occupies a vastly different landscape than was once the norm, a fact that figures all the more prominently in the precarious nature of recorded jazz. As such, Davis can proudly look back on a catalog that not only documents his growth as an artist, but also speaks powerfully to the validity of traditional jazz values and individuality.

As far back as 2000 this writer was singing the praises of Davis' singular efforts as a composer, noting that "his writing finds him in the position of first place in regards to talent deserving of wider recognition." Now eighteen years on, I still stand by that statement and further add that it's his originals that once again shine brightly on this, Davis' third date as a leader for Smoke Sessions. Serving not merely as a launching pad for a string of solos, Steve's charts possess all the charm of the most memorable jazz standards while covering a good deal of stylistic ground.

Helping breathe life into his dynamic compositions are several musicians spawned from the healthy jazz community in Hartford. Trumpeter Joshua Bruneau, tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, bassist Dezron Douglas, and Jonathan Barber all matriculated through The Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz where Davis has been on the faculty himself since 1991. Furthermore, Bruneau, Douglas and pianist Xavier Davis had previously recorded with the trombonist on several earlier dates. "When it came time for planning this session, Paul Stache and I agreed that we wanted to assemble a band blending rising stars and established veterans that would be easy for me to lead, write for, and most importantly sustain over time," explains Davis.

The sextet format is certainly nothing new to Davis, who has been a denizen of the hard bop collective One For All since its inception. "I didn't necessarily write or choose all of the music with this exact instrumentation in mind. It was more about considering the individual players and each of their musical personalities & creative voices," Davis states. "Although we all have played together and have been good friends over the years, we had never played all together with this lineup before. The group chemistry is fantastic, which results in a potent momentum and freshness to the music. It feels like we can go anywhere we want to and only need more opportunities to perform together."

The jaunty Latin groove of "Embarcadero" makes the most of the three-horn lineup in its voicings, not unlike those Davis' has utilized with One For All. "I composed this one in 2001 while teaching at the Stanford Jazz Workshop in California," Steve says. "It's named after the waterfront thoroughfare in San Francisco. At the time, I had attended a San Francisco Giants game with my good friend Joe Farnsworth where we saw Barry Bonds' forty-ninth homerun the year he hit seventy-three."

Another Davis original with a coy title, "Subtlety" boasts a melody that is underpinned by a repeated piano and bass riff. It then breaks out into a swinging release that provides a yin to the opening yang. "I suppose there's something about the harmonic structure of the piece and a certain nuance that inspired the horn voicings, overall feel, and title," explains Davis. Escoffery's upper register cries are just one of many highlights from his memorable solo. Not unlike Steve's longtime comrade Jim Rotondi, Bruneau shows how seriously he takes his tone and the fluidity of his phrasing marks him as a heavy hitter among his generation of trumpeters.

A bristling number of bacchanalian proportions, "Bautista's Revenge" gets to the nitty gritty of the samba groove. The tune's sparkling melody is further augmented by a piano vamp and fanfare which serve as a tag between solos. "My seventeen-year-old daughter Angie actually named this tune," Davis says. "Josh and I are huge Red Sox fans. I had been playing the tune on the piano for Josh one day while Angie was around. Afterwards, she had heard me recount to him a story about going to a game at Fenway in the early 2000's between Boston and Baltimore."

As Steve tells it, a hitter for Baltimore named Tony Bautista had to endure the taunts of a rowdy Red Sox fan throughout the game. After hitting a grand slam in the top of the eighth inning making the score 12 to 0 Orioles, Bautista passed the heckler on his way back to the dugout. "He rubs under his eyes as if wiping tears away in mock 'boo hoo' fashion, hence Angie's brilliant idea for a title," Davis states proudly. Riding out the closing vamp and Xavier's rollicking piano, percussionist Cyro Baptista adds some jungle flavor via his use of the cuica, a Brazilian friction drum that sounds much like the hoots and hollers of a chimpanzee. "Cyro's wonderful, orchestral, and intuitive contribution really takes the music over the top on this one."

Indicative of his knack for penning pieces that vary in mood and structure, "Song for My Love" finds Barber hitting backbeats on two and four and Davis fleshing out the contrasting horn lines in colorful fashion. The end results are akin to some of Stevie Wonder's jazzier numbers, and that in itself is offered as the sincerest form of flattery. Davis actually wrote the piece for his wife Abena Koomson-Davis while in Slovakia. "After sound check for a concert, I found a beautiful Bosendorfer grand piano backstage and wrote the tune while waiting for dinner before the gig," explains Davis. "My good friend Jim Rotondi and I were on a lengthy tour of Europe in 2017 and I was missing my lovely wife. This one is a love song dedicated to her."

A descending riff with shifting harmonic underpinning, "Newbie" speaks in optimistic tones. "My daughter Angie strikes again with a title on that one," Davis declares. "I was playing this ditty on the piano one day wondering if it might actually have the makings of a tune. Just then, my daughter sits down on the piano bench next to me and says, 'Hey Dad, so is that a newbie? I like it!' That inspired me to finish the piece and, of course, I had to call it Newbie."

Rounding out the selection of Davis originals, "Can't Complain" is a no frills swinger that sports an opening motif not unlike that of Hank Mobley's iconic "This I Dig of You." "It's got a 'happy-go-lucky' feeling to it, but is deceptively challenging to play," Davis clarifies. Possessing a more profound backstory, the dedicatory "Blues for Owen" is for the late Hartford Courant jazz writer Owen McNally. "He was a first-rate journalist and an absolute scholar of jazz music. Deeply respected throughout the Connecticut jazz community for his consistent work and quiet dedication, McNally championed the local music scene over many decades. We will miss him and dedicate this blues to his memory and to his family."

The remaining numbers, while not written by Davis, have special significance to the trombonist. The oft-performed "Peace" is one of Horace Silver's most memorable contributions to the jazz lexicon. "I had the opportunity to get to know Horace between 1998 and 2004," Steve explains. "I played in his band for a week at The Blue Note in New York in May of 2004, which turned out to be his last public performance."

Rumbling piano and thundering toms usher in the sagacious George Cables original "Think on Me." A change of pace rhythmically, this one sports straight eighth notes and Barber's rim clicks at four beats to the bar. Plagued with health issues and the amputation of one of his legs, Cables has thankfully returned to his piano bench recently and Davis and company felt it was important to honor this jazz great while he is still here in our midst.

The lovely waltz "A Child is Born" is a master class from Davis in the art of finessing a ballad. His perfect intonation and burnished tone are certainly part and parcel of his emotional connection with the subject of the Thad Jones chestnut, being a father of three. Wrapping up the proceedings in combustible fashion,McCoy Tyner's "Inner Glimpse" provides weighty fodder for these accomplished musicians. "This tune requires full-intensity," states Davis, "and really helps us to reach high, play with fire, and go for it!"

Far from being a one-off affair, Davis' new multi-generational sextet is sure to serve him well in his composing endeavors, along with inspiring his own musical statements. "Many deep connections exist within this band," explains Davis as he contemplates his next move. "These are longtime, genuine friendships marked by shared experiences learning from and playing with jazz masters such as Jackie McLean, Freddie Hubbard, Larry Willis, Curtis Fuller, Tom Harrell, Al Foster, and Louis Hayes. We have logged many miles on the road together and had lots of laughs. I feel that we have a very bright future creating profound musical memories together."

Liner Notes copyright © 2024 C. Andrew Hovan.

Correlations can be purchased here.

C. Andrew Hovan Contact C. Andrew Hovan at All About Jazz.
An avid audiophile and music collector, Chris Hovan is a Cleveland-based writer / photographer / musician.

Track Listing

Embarcadero; Subtlety; Bautista's Revenge; Song For My Love; Newbie; Peace; Can't Complain; Think On Me; Blues For Owen; A Child Is Born; Inner Glimpse.


Album information

Title: Correlations | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Smoke Sessions Records




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