Steve Davis – Think Ahead – Smoke Sessions Records #SSR 1704 – 75:34 – ****:
Steve Davis comes through again on Think Ahead…
(Steve Davis – trombone; Steve Wilson – alto and soprano sax, flute; Jimmy Greene – tenor sax; Larry Willis – piano; Peter Washington – bass; Lewis Nash – drums)
Trombonist, Steve Davis, mentions in the liner notes of his new CD, Think Ahead, that he is a big baseball and basketball fan. It is apropos then to use baseball terms to describe Davis as a clutch hitter. You know that your clutch hitter will be both dependable, and can handle most any situation. Steve Davis is rock solid both as a band leader (he is nearing twenty titles) and absolute first choice trombone sideman. He is a founding member of the super group, One For All, and also a professor at the Hartt Music School at the University of Hartford. On his latest CD, Steve has assembled a who’s who of veteran jazz super stars (all clutch hitters) to help back his musical vision. The front line features Steve Wilson on alto and soprano sax and flute, and Jimmy Greene on tenor sax. The rhythm section of Larry Willis, Peter Washington, and Lewis Nash is a dream team on their own. It is certainly a testament to the respect that they have for their leader.
Recorded on MLK Day (Jan. 16, 2017) in New York, the vibe at the time was especially poignant and difficult. The political climate at the time was raw, and to make things more wrenching, Steve’s only sibling, his brother, Peter, had just tragically suddenly passed away from a heart ailment. Davis wanted to go forward with the planned recording and his intuition was right on as the ensemble effort proves. Steve wrote seven of the eleven tracks, along with two standards, and a track each from Tony Williams and Bobby Hutcherson.
“Warrior” from Williams opens and immediately we’re in the comfort zone. With the trombone lead and backing from the saxophones it brought to mind the early Jazz Crusaders with Davis’ meaty burnished tone. The class of Larry Willis and the great Lewis Nash helps make it all come together. “Abena’s Gaze” written for Steve’s fiancee (now wife), actress, singer, and educator, Abena Koomson follows next, and is deeply moving.
“A Little Understanding” with its ensemble blend is a plea for the need/lack of empathy in today’s political discourse. “Atmosphere” is based on the chord changes of Chick Corea’s “500 Miles High.” Steve was in Corea’s Origin band at the turn of the millennium. It features Steve Wilson’s ethereal flute. Davis wrote “Mountaintop” to honor the Martin Luther King speech given the day before his assassination. Peter Washington’s elegant bass solo is featured on a wistful version of Bobby Hutcherson’s “Little B’s Poem.”
In closing, Steve concludes with his brother’s tribute, “Farewell Brother.” It’s both uplifting and touching, with a deep swing groove.
I’d match up this sextet full of clutch players against any other hard bop contingent playing today. It’s the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and Steve Davis coming up to bat. My money’s on Steve…
A Little Understanding
Polka Dots and Moonbeams
Love Walked In
Little B’s Poem
Evening Shades of Blue