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Vincent Herring – Night and Day – Smoke Sessions
Steve Davis – Say When – Smoke Sessions

Vincent Herring – Night and Day – Smoke Sessions SSR 1504, 62:24 (5/12/15) ****:

Steve Davis – Say When – Smoke Sessions SCR-1505, 67:57 (6/9/15) *****:

(Vincent Herring – alto sax; Jeremy Pelt – trumpet; Mike LeDonne – piano; Brandi Disterheft – bass; Joe Farnsworth – drums)

(Steve Davis – trombone; Eddie Henderson – trumpet; Eric Alexander – tenor sax; Harold Mabern – piano; Nat Reeves – bass; Joe Farnsworth – drums)

Smoke Sessions Records has been on a winning streak that would be the envy of a professional sports team. Just since last June, they are a perfect nine for nine in my reviews of their CD issues. By combining some of the best names in mainstream jazz with the top sidemen (likely all living in greater New York?), along with superb acoustics and fascinating CD liner interviews, this label has become a major presence on the jazz scene and dependable in the best sense. Check out this leader line-up: Steve Turre, Eddie Henderson, Louis Hayes, Vincent Herring, Jimmy Cobb, and pianists, Cyrus Chestnut, Eric Reed, David Hazeltine, and Orrin Evans.

It’s time to go through the line-up a second time with new issues from Chestnut (recently reviewed) and Vincent Herring. Just added to the team is trombonist Steve Davis, with backing from a dream team sextet that would be the lead act of any hip jazz festival.

Night and Day is the second Smoke Sessions issue from Vincent Herring. For those of us who will be unable to catch their release performance next weekend at Smoke (FYI, the jazz club that spawned the label), don’t be too bummed as this CD has the true ambiance and excitement factor that would accompany a live intimate Big Apple jazz concert. (plus you’ll save on the two drink minimum…)

On six of the ten tracks, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt is along to energize the band and either spur on Vincent, or provide an ensemble blend like a fine cognac. “Grind Hog’s Day” is a perfect example, as Pelt blows hard while Mike LeDonne comps ably. Joe Farnsworth is upfront in the mix, and we get to experience the feeling of being in the first five rows without being cramped… The old war horse, “Night and Day” is resuscitated by Vincent’s alto tone that seems to be a blend of Cannonball and Jackie McLean – sweetness with just a taste of vinegar to please the jazz palate.

“The Adventures of Hyun Joo Lee” is based on Coltrane’s “Countdown.” It provides Herring the opportunity to do some “free” blowing. LeDonne composed “Walton” as a tribute to Cedar, for whom Vincent was featured for over twenty years. Both Pelt, Herring, and LeDonne express musically their love for the pianist whose loss is still acutely felt in the jazz community.

“The Gypsy” is a pretty ballad where Vincent’s lyrical side is shared. Donald Byrd’s “Fly, Little Bird” is hard bop heaven as the front line horns soar. Cannonball Adderley’s “Wabash” brings to mind the Adderley Tribute Band led by Louis Hayes that featured both Pelt and Herring channeling Nat and Julian. “Theme for Jobim” written by Cedar Walton follows and has the sextet show their Latin jazz credentials.

Beginning to end this is a fine CD…

TrackList: Grind Hog’s Day, Night and Day, The Adventures of Hyun Joo Lee, Walton, The Gypsy, Fly Little Bird, Wabash, Theme for Jobim, There is Something About You (I Don’t Know), Smoking Paul’s Stash

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It is hard to come up with more superlatives about Steve Davis. He is certainly in the upper echelon of all active trombone players, and is heading toward legendary status. Both as a leader, ace sideman, and as a founding member of the super group, One for All, (that to me was a modern Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers-quality hard bop aggregation), Steve Davis has “been there and done that…”

For his label debut, Davis has made a tribute album to one of the true masters of jazz trombone, the iconic J. J. Johnson.  Davis is an appropriate artist to honor Johnson as his own lyrical tone backed with clear articulation, and a strong sense of swing, comes perhaps closest of modern generation trombonists to emulate J.J. Johnson.

Surrounding himself with Alexander and Farnsworth (both members of One for All), as well as fellow jazz professor (at the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz at the Hartt School of the University of Hartford) bassist Nat Reeves; Davis rounds out the sextet with old school legends: trumpeter Eddie Henderson, and pianist Harold Mabern. It doesn’t get much better than this…

The song list is impressive with six tracks written by Johnson as well as “Mr. Johnson,” a tribute to the master, written by Mabern. As Davis so aptly puts it,  “J. J. is the Charlie Parker of the trombone. He’s our Bird.” That pretty much says it all, and on Say When, Davis’ group delivers.

Highlights include a wonderful “Lament” in which Davis’ trombone talents are on full display, as well as “Shortcake” and “Say When” two compositions of Johnson’s that were big band features. “Kenya’ was written by J.J. as a dedication to his granddaughter, and its catchy melody is contagious. Coltrane’s “Village Blues” and J.J.’s  “Shutterbug” are two memorable blues tracks.

The release date of this CD is not till June 9th, plenty of time to mark this date on your calendar, and whet your appetite for this new CD, a marvelous tribute to a legendary trombonist by a legend in the making…

TrackList: Pinnacles, What is This Thing Called Love?, Shortcake, Mr. Johnson, Lament, Say When, Kenya, Shutterbug, Village Blues, There Will Never Be Another You, When the Saints Go Marching In

—Jeff Krow

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