Angela Davis Quartet plus Strings – Lady Luck
(Nicholas Records. Review by Peter Jones)
It’s an ambition many jazz players harbour: Bird was the first to do it With Strings in 1950, and Getz and many others followed. Of course, in cases where the musician is something of an acquired taste as far as the uncommitted audience is concerned, there’s no harm in sweetening the pill with a more commercial offering.
That’s not the perspective of young Australian-born and now New York resident alto saxophonist Angela Davis. She favours sweetness of tone: her 2013 debut was tellingly titled The Art of the Melody, so it comes as no surprise that the tunes and arrangements on this pleasant follow-up are on the easy-listening end of the spectrum. Davis heads a jazz quartet plus a string quartet on eight tunes. Three of these are self-composed, appearing as a group in the middle of the album. The arranger on all tracks was Steve Newcomb. Opening with Make Someone Happy, the album hits a high spot early on with You Must Believe in Spring, the strings supplying a suitably yearning accompaniment to this Michel Legrand ballad, pianist Dan Tepfer supplying an attractive solo, albeit in the looming shadow of Bill Evans. The title track is a spikier Thad Jones composition featuring a brief but spritely bass solo from Linda Oh, then it’s back to the ballad with the first of Davis’s tunes, Hymn for the Lonely. It’s as moody and reflective as it sounds, the strings’ appearance delayed this time by a beautiful piano intro until they come in on the melody after a couple of minutes.
For me, Oh is the standout soloist on this album, making another short but arresting contribution on the second (otherwise slightly forgettable) Davis composition Nola’s Waltz. The hard-driving A Thousand Feet from Bergen Street allows Tepfer to show off his chops with an excellent extended solo, after which the tune subsides into more of a two-feel behind Davis’s be- bop-ish alto, the blowing section ending with Oh and drummer Richie Barshay trading eights. But strings? After a brief initial scrabble, they’re nowhere in sight.
They’re back on Till We Meet Again, a ballad written by the album’s producer, fellow Australian Mat Jodrell, which Davis invests with a cool melancholy. The album ends with the (stringless) hymn tune Abide with Me, a duo between Davis and Tepfer. Although as a whole Lady Luck doesn’t really hang together as thematically as you might expect, there’s plenty to enjoy.