Trombonist/composer Steve Davis was commissioned by the Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz to compose Images: The Hartford Suite, with track dedicated to a contemporary or historical Hartford figure or place. Thankfully, a detailed knowledge of Hartford, Connecticut is not a prerequisite for the enjoyment of this music; the talent and enthusiasm of the musicians accentuate this set of upbeat, positive, swinging tunes.
This is the Davis quintet’s second album, following Outlook (Posi-Tone Records, 2008). Every member of the band swings with genuine power. Davis plays his trombone with a rich and rounded tone that melds perfectly with the softer tone of Mike DiRubbo’s alto. The addition of Josh Evans on trumpet and flugelhorn on tunes such as “Kenney’s” adds depth to the overall horn sound. The rhythm section drives everything along with just enough of a push to ensure that the band sounds energetic but never hurried. Eric McPherson’s cymbal work is exceptional throughout, his freedom to create intricate and subtle patterns assisted enormously by Dezron Douglas’ strong bass lines.
Davis credits Billy Strayhorn’s influence on “Rose Garden,” a slower and more reflective tune with Davis and pianist David Bryant contributing lovely, sparse solos. The tempo may be slow, but it’s by no means sad or pessimistic; elsewhere, however, tempos are quicker and the tunes are more overtly positive. Bop influences are also direct—not unexpectedly, given that Davis has worked with Art Blakey and acknowledges the great influence of Jackie McLean, to whom he dedicates “J Mac’s Way.” On “Tune For Calhoun” it’s the influence of bebop that has the upper hand; a fast, explosive, number that gives every member of the quintet a chance to deliver effective solos. Kris Jensen adds tenor sax to “Club 880,” which creates a real bite and fullness to the horn lines on this up-tempo tribute to the Hartford jazz venue.
Images: The Hartford Suite is a beautiful work, beautifully played. Inventive but also accessible, this is a celebratory album of uplifting tunes that should find this quintet receiving deserved wider recognition.
Track listing: Nato; The Modernist; Twain’s World; J Mac’s Way; Mode for Miantonomoh; Rose Garden; Tune for Calhoun; Park Street; Kenney’s; Club 880.
Personnel: Steve Davis: trombone; Mike DiRubbo: alto saxophone; Josh Evans: trumpet, flugelhorn; David Bryant: piano; Dezron Douglas: bass; Eric McPherson: drums; Kris Jensen: tenor saxophone (10).