Composer and trombonist Steve Davis found a home for his muse starting in the late '90s with Criss Cross Jazz. Over the course of seven dates as a leader and many times more as a sideman, he established his voice as a writer and performer. For the past ten years, his releases elsewhere have been few and far between. It is with much fanfare then that fans should greet his second date for Smoke Sessions, a label that is highly skilled at presenting Davis' music in the best possible light.
If there is to be a caveat it might be that there is merely too much music here, the disc clocking in at over seventy-four minutes. But that is but a minor detail for a project that casts a sagacious mix between Davis' originals and standard jazz chestnuts. The opening "Warrior" is one of many brilliant Tony Williams compositions penned during the drummer's heydays with his quintet of the 80's and early '90s. Drummer Lewis Nash channels the line's inherent energy and fiery solos from everyone make for a bold opening gambit.
Steve Wilson's soprano and flute blend nicely with Davis' horn on the breezy Davis originals "Abena's Gaze" and "Atmosphere." On tenor saxophone Jimmy Greene adds some weight to the ensembles and his own statements range from the tender strains of "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" to the fleet and burly lines of "Mountaintop." He also explores the tonal range and textures of his horn on "Abena's Gaze," with an incendiary statement that almost threatens to come apart at the seams.
Davis' originals are disparate and varied as usual and serve as fine fodder for the ensemble. "A Little Understanding" struts it's up tempo funk with rim clicks on beats two and four. "Think Ahead" recalls "Giant Steps" with its ascending lines and anticipatory structure, thus the song's title. One of Davis' best compositions, "Evening Shades of Blue" first appeared on Jim Rotondi's 2001 release Destination Up. It's great to hear it again in this new guise, the piece still casting its spell with its closing vamp. Davis's own statement here and elsewhere are strong examples of his craft as one of the best trombonists on the scene.
Mention should also be made in regards to the efforts of bassist Peter Washington and pianist Larry Willis. To say that these men together with Lewis Nash form a dream rhythm section is obviously an understatement. There is also a strong unity of purpose that is abundantly clear, especially on the closing "Farewell, Brother," a tribute to Davis' recently deceased brother. Having lost his daughter in the Sandy Hook tragedy, Jimmy Greene's yearning solo speaks to his own sense of loss. Yet, instead of a somber tone poem, the Latinesque number speaks to a celebration of life.
Warrior; Abena's Gaze; A Little Understanding; Atmosphere; Mountaintop; Polka Dots and Moonbeams; Love Walked In; Think Ahead; Little B's Poem; Evening Shades of Blue; Farewell, Brother.
Steve Davis: trombone; Jimmy Greene: saxophone; Larry Willis: piano; Peter Washington: bass; Lewis Nash: drums.