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Craig Davis: Tone Paintings


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Craig Davis: Tone Paintings
The subtitle of pianist Craig Davis' second album, Tone Paintings, is "The Music of Dodo Marmarosa." For those who may be inclined to ask, "Dodo who?" the album offers a mini-biography of Pittsburgh-born Michael (Dodo) Marmarosa, an exceptionally talented pianist whose promising early career was cut short by the crushing weight of mental and emotional problems that proved too unbearable for him to overcome. At his peak, in the decade from 1940-50, Marmarosa was a member of big bands led by Gene Krupa, Charlie Barnet, Tommy Dorsey and Artie Shaw, and played and/or recorded with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie (on Parker's first recordings for Dial Records), Wardell Gray, Lionel Hampton, Mel Torme, Lester Young and Willie "The Lion" Smith, among others, as well as recording with his own groups. The peerless Art Tatum, asked in the mid-'40s to name the most promising young pianists he'd heard, singled out Marmarosa and Red Garland.

Like Marmarosa (and legendary pianist Erroll Garner), Davis hails from Pittsburgh, and was well aware of Dodo's trail-blazing career at the keyboard. What is lesser known (and what Davis chooses to emphasize here) is Marmarosa's singular proficiency as a composer. To do so, he has enlisted the services of a blue-chip rhythm section comprising bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton to perform ten of Marmarosa's seductive original compositions and one flat-out charmer ("A Ditty for Dodo") by Davis. The bop influence is strong throughout, as is Marmarosa's capacity to write enchanting melodies that also swing.

The album's opening number, the Garner-like "Mellow Mood," was written when Marmarosa was a scant fourteen years old (yes, he was a child prodigy who became a professional musician in his mid-teens and listed among his early musical influences Chopin, Ravel, Debussy and Stravinsky). "Mood" is delightful, but no more so than Dodo's eight other themes, which include a blues, a bounce, a battle, a lament and "Tone Paintings." There is even a clever contrafact ("Compadoo") of the standard "Sweet Georgia Brown." The tasteful and deeply grooved "Dary Departs" is among the album's several highlights, as is the animated "Battle of the Balcony Jive," which leads to the pensive and suitable closing number, "Dodo's Lament."

The album's other numbers are "Dodo's Bounce," "Dodo's Blues," "Escape" and "Opus No. 5." The guess here is that Davis—an artist to keep an eye on—plays them precisely as Marmaroso would have wanted. As for Clayton, he is simply one of the finest bassists on the scene (his solos are models of elegance and perception), while Hamilton's superior talents with sticks and brushes remain at their peak. As trio sessions go, it does not get much better than this. An exemplary tribute to a remarkable musician whose legacy should neither be undervalued nor overlooked.

Track Listing

Mellow Mood; Dodo’s Bounce; Dodo’s Blues; Escape; A Ditty for Dodo; Opus No. 5; Compadoo; Dary Departs; Tone Paintings; Battle of the Balcony Jive; Dodo’s Lament.


Album information

Title: Tone Paintings | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: MCG Jazz


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