Caroline Davis Quartet – Live Work & Play
(884501767231. CD Review by Jon Turney)
Adventurous Chicago-based alto saxophonist Caroline Davis, like any musician in a city with a decent scene, works in a clutch of different ensembles. Her quartet, who played a storming set at the Chicago Jazz festival in late Summer, is perhaps the most straightahead setting for her playing. This well-integrated group is made up by three other Chicagoans. Guitarist Mike Allamena was long a mainstay of the late and legendary Von Freeman’s bands, and deep-toned bassist Matt Ferguson and drummer Jeremy Cunningham round out the foursome. Their CD confirms they are an ensemble to reckon with.
Davis cites Shorter and Konitz as key influences, and shares an obliquity of line and slight astringency of tone with those wily old masters. Like them, the approach is thoughtful. No running through licks here: each note choice sounds considered, even at faster tempos.
Thoughtfulness marks her work generally. She teaches college part-time, and recently took the study of music and psychology up a level with a PhD in music cognition. There is nothing academic about the music, though, with Ferguson and Cunningham urging on the saxophonist, who constantly varies note lengths and phrase shapes to produce small surprises. The tunes are all hers, save for one piece by Allamena and a couple of standards – Strayhorn’s auto-threnody Blood Count and Parker’s Cheryl, which closes the set with her take on be-bop vocabulary. They vary from the bluesy, mid-tempo Real Rims to more impressionistic settings for melodic extemporisation. It is a consistently interesting recording, with plenty of room for the guitarist, sometimes in exuberant counterpoint, sometimes unison with the leader. All in all, proof that there is superb jazz still emerging from America’s Second City.