Jazz CD Reviews

Steve Davis – Eloquence – JLP

Something special.

Published on March 23, 2010

Steve Davis – Eloquence – JLP

Steve Davis – Eloquence – JLP 0901003, 69:13 ****½:

(Steve Davis, trombone; Hank Jones, piano; Nat Reeves, bass; Joe Farnsworth, drums – with special guests: Roy Hargrove, trumpet; Steve Nelson, vibes; John Lee, acoustic bass guitar)

Pairing trombonist Steve Davis with the elegant senior statesman of jazz piano, Hank Jones, is a brilliant move for JLP on Davis’ new release, Eloquence. Its title is appropriate as Hank brings class to any session. His playing is understated, never showy, and he has a technical brilliance that comes from over six decades of having played with just about every mainstream jazz legend.

Davis, though roughly half Hank’s age, is already a premier trombonist as well as a jazz educator, being on the staff of the Jackie McLean Institute at the University of Hartford. Davis is the trombonist with the top flight hard bop band, One for All (who have their own JLP issue coming out next month.) Roster mate, drummer Joe Farnsworth, and fellow faculty member, Nat Reeves, make up the rhythm section on Eloquence. Guests trumpeter Roy Hargrove (tracks #3-5), and vibist, Steve Nelson, from Dave Holland’s band (on five tracks), add their magic to Eloquence along with CD producer, John Lee, who plays bass on three tracks. This CD was recorded in late 2007, but was just mixed last summer. Song selection is a mix of quartet, quintet, and sextet.

Bird’s staple, Yardbird Suite, opens with the quartet, and Steve’s smooth midrange is highlighted. Though Hank Jones has probably played this tune thousands of times, his solo still sounds fresh, and Reeves’ pulse is strongly felt with Farnsworth getting brief statements to spur on his partners. How Deep is the Ocean gives Davis the chance to show off his burnished deep tone and he brings to mind, J.J. Johnson. It is a gorgeous rendition.

Guests Hargrove and Nelson are onboard for Minor Contention, written by Hank Jones. It is striking just how adding Roy and Steve to the melody brings out a sound like several more instruments are on stage, as the horns brighten and the vibes sweeten the mood. Reeves’ bass also is upfront and mixed superbly by Paul Wickliffe.  Hargrove and Nelson stay for Davis’ T.H.E Blues and It Could Happen to You. The former features Hargrove’s soulful solo, followed by Nelson’s relaxed stick work. The standard, It Could Happen to You, is nailed and it is hard to pick out a solo to point out when the ensemble playing of this super sextet is picture perfect – easier heard than described.

Kurt Weill’s My Ship, done as a slow ballad, shows why Davis is at the top echelon of trombone players. The warmth and elegance he brings to this standard, followed with the incomparable choruses of Hank Jones makes one wish they could be in an intimate club to hear Steve and Hank work their magic.

Other standards featured include Have You Met Miss Jones, and Django, which is a natural for the quintet as Steve Nelson takes on the Milt Jackson role for arguably the most well known of the John Lewis Modern Jazz Quartet compositions. Having a trombone along for the ride with the vibes is a nice touch.

Steve Davis takes lead on Wes Montgomery’s Road Song and Joe Farnsworth’s cymbal work makes a nice counterpoint for Davis. The quartet sets out a Latin beat here. Peedlum, another Hank Jones composition is taken at a jaunty stride and Hank is clearly having fun, with some gut bucket trombone from Davis.

Appropriately, a J.J. Johnson composition, Lament, is a feature for Davis to show his lyrical side, and it is simply lovely. Eloquence closes with a rousing version of When the Saints Go Marching In.

This CD has the whole package – pristine sound, and an all-star group backing a trombonist in his prime. It also must have been a real treat for Steve Davis to have the opportunity to record with a vital jazz legend, Hank Jones, who is still going strong into his 90s. (I also love the care that JLP puts into their CD packaging with their unique plastic jewel cases featuring superb photos and clean graphics.)

TrackList: Yardbird Suite, How Deep is the Ocean, Minor Contention, T.H.E. Blues, It Could Happen to you, My Ship, Have You Met Miss Jones, Django, Road Song, Peedlum, Lament, When the Saints Go Marching In

– Jeff Krow

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