Album reviews

Jesse Davis – ‘Live At Smalls Jazz Club’

Jesse Davis Live At Smalls Jazz Club

(Cellar Music group. Album review by Len Weinreich)

There’s a reason why New Orleans born alto saxophonist Jesse Davis’s name doesn’t trip off the tongue. Blame geography. Although these tracks were recorded at Small Jazz Club in New York, Davis is a stranger to the city where U.S. jazz musicians consolidate their reputations. And that’s because the 57 year-old lives with his family in Italy and why he isn’t as celebrated as he should be.

Evidently, Davis views Jimmy Heath’s ‘Gingerbread Boy’ as a funky cookie packed with lip-smacking spice, applying fluent, rapid runs and lashings of soul. On piano, Wilner executes a striking locked hands passage followed with fireworks, courtesy of Peter Washington. On ‘Ceora’, Lee Morgan’s composition, Davis (in Lester Young’s memorable phrase) ‘tells a story’, wailing in the old jazz sense, his alto an instrument of yearning.

McIntosh’s ‘Cup Bearers’, with its rising figure and inspirational Farnsworth drumming, is taken at a sparky tempo (is the ‘Song Is You’ quote a tribute to Bird?). Wilner’s sonorous voicings introduce Strachey and Link’s ‘These Foolish Things’ which receives an emotional, though never sentimental, treatment from the soloists who demonstrate how to generate swing in a slow ballad. Davis supplies an unaccompanied coda with a breath-taking acrobatic flight.

Even though ‘Juicy Lucy’ isn’t a blues, it’s given the full-blown bluesy treatment, the band emphasising the irresistible bounce Horace Silver built into the melody. They rip into Thelonious Monk’s ‘Rhythm-A-Ning’ with vigour and enthusiasm, Davis and Wilner weaving phrases through the changes like limber gymnasts, powered by Farnsworth propulsion.

On Victor Young’s lyrical ‘Street of Dreams’, Davis intensifies the dramatic effect by bending notes almost beyond their pitch limits. In contrast, Wilner maintains a delicate, even elegant contribution and Washington’s bass playing is subtle, precise and eloquent.

The album closes with Cole Porter’s frequently-banned ‘Love For Sale’ flavoured with a hint of Latin before it breaks into regular 4/4, with rapid flurries of notes from the alto and driving keyboard action from Wilner.

Altogether, a rare unpretentious and honest album from four excellent musicians who’ve obviously relished the experience. The sound is good and Cory Weeds took excellent charge of production.

Jesse Davis, alto saxophone; Spike Wilner, piano; Peter Washington, bass; Joe Farnsworth, drums.
Recorded Smalls Jazz Club, New York City 17 February 2022.

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LINK: Live at Smalls on Bandcamp

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