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Not to be confused with the alto saxophonist’s 2011 quintet recording, Live at Smalls, Jesse Davis’ latest quartet recording from this famed New York jazz club features nearly the same personnel: pianist Spike Wilner and bassist Peter Washington, with drummer Joe Farnsworth replacing Billy Drummond. Also comparable is the approach that Davis so aptly commandeers, a no-holds-barred blowing session using a standard jazz repertoire from the pens of the masters — what jazz musicians nonchalantly refer to as “playing tunes.”
But there’s nothing nonchalant about this eight-song live set. Davis’ laser-like sound and neo-bop vocabulary spur a sobering urgency across tempi, including ballads. Two are included here: “These Foolish Things” and “Street of Dreams” — both of which, though sublimely interpreted, settle in one’s earbuds the same way bittersweet dark chocolate stimulates the taste buds. And with all of the chops at his disposal, Davis can’t help but explode into double-time passages that seem to remind us that time is of the essence, in life and in music.
A New Orleans native who burst upon the scene during the “Young Lions” decades of the 1980s and ’90s, Davis released seven albums on the Concord label, was heard on several later projects, then seemed to slip into obscurity. Unknown to many of us in the states, he’s been quite active on the European scene, having called Italy home for nearly 20 years. Even with Davis’ significant stature, he’s recorded sparsely since the ’90s.
Davis’ rhythm section is first-rate. Although pianist-producer Wilner’s liner notes discuss his own earliest experiences with Davis as “hanging on for dear life,” no such thing is evident some 30 years later. His blistering right-hand linear, melodious solos rival Davis’ for sheer velocity and technique. In tandem with Washington’s effervescent bass lines and Farnsworth’s state-of-the-art drumming, classic tunes such as “Gingerbread Boy,” “Ceora” and “Juicy Lucy” remain very much alive and valid into the 21st century. — James Rozzi https://open.spotify.com/album/11ry5mvASGJYlTkSvXzk2N?si=vFdILDAfRVG0qMQch3nxLA
Featured photo by William Brown.