CD reviews

Josephine Davies – “Satori: How Can We Wake?”

Josephine Davies – Satori: How Can We Wake? 
(Whirlwind WR4764. CD review by Jon Turney)

It’s usual to observe that a saxophone trio is an exposed format for the horn player – and it’s true. There they are, out in uncluttered harmonic space, demanding our attention. And if they have any care for the history of the format – hard to believe anyone would do it otherwise – they will be keenly aware that past masters have left an indelible impression.

That often means new sax-bass-and-drums offerings are deliberately cast as tributes to past classics, or sound like a melange of several. The listener may be briefly diverted, but soon goes back to Rollins at the Vanguard, Joe Henderson, or some other favourite.

One way to win at this game is to come up with a slew of startling new compositions like, say, Jane Ira Bloom. Alternatively, some unifying overall concept is in order.

That’s Josephine Davies’ aid to inspiration on this, her third Whirlwind release with Dave Whitford on bass and James Maddren on drums. Her suite of pieces, recorded live in London in January, draw on an interest in yoga, and particularly the teachings of the sage Patañjali. Those are an incitement not to seek some great enlightenment, but for striving to be in the moment, musically.

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So there are new compositions here, but they are largely framing motifs, principally to set a mood and launch invention. Some have an Eastern flavour, and there are multiple references to past landmarks – Mudita: joy, for instance, pays tribute to Ornette Coleman’s trio work, but proceeds from a Rollins-like riff.

Leaning East isn’t altogether new, and being in the moment is a common prescription for freeing up your musical being. But does the combination inspire these artists, on this session? The answer, happily, is a resounding yes. All three embrace the moods proposed with total commitment. The pieces, presented as numbered tracks but run together, continually offer new challenges, and the trio’s long acquaintance has forged a superbly integrated and responsive unit. Whitford supplies a supple bass obbligato. Maddren runs a marvellous gamut of drum styles, from deep groove to barely implied pulse, as required.

And the leader, sticking to tenor save for a soprano excursion on Daya: compassion, weaves a continuous thread of shifting feelings through the set. She is at her best proffering mesmeric long tones, weighting each note in a phrase differently, but there are choice up-tempo flights too. Sometimes the playing leans towards the more committed freestyle of an AACM school soloist like say, Fred Anderson. Elsewhere, more successfully to my ear, there is more of Henderson or Joe Lovano in the mix. But she keeps you with her throughout, and the supremely relaxed reprise of the affecting opener Ananda: bliss at the close lends a pleasing symmetry to the threesome’s improvisational journey.

A saxophone trio is an exposed format. The listener will know whether the horn player is really aiming for the heights, and reaching them. Josephine Davies is.

Jon Turney writes about jazz, and other things, from Bristol: website and Twitter.

LINK: Satori: How Can We Wake? on bandcamp

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