Trombonist Steve Davis has played such consistently rewarding music throughout his career that it is easy to take him for granted. He studied at the Hartt School under Jackie McLean who recommended him to Art Blakey. Davis was a member of the last version of the Jazz Messengers and since then has always been in demand. He worked with McLean's sextet, One For All, Chick Corea's Origin (1997-2001), the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Star Big Band and with the who's of hard bop and post-bop. Think Ahead is his 19th CD as a leader since 1994.
For this program, Davis utilizes an all-star sextet filled with jazz greats: Steve Wilson on alto, soprano and flute, tenor-saxophonist Jimmy Greene, pianist Larry Willis, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash. As they perform seven of the leader's originals and songs by Tony Williams, Bobby Hutcherson, Gershwin and Jimmy Van Heusen, one can often feel the influence of Blakey's Jazz Messengers and J.J. Johnson. The music swings throughout while using modern harmonies.
The opener, Tony Williams' "Warrior," is a driving piece with concise solos that serves as a fine introduction to the band. Nearly every song on the CD features solos by each of the horn players and pianist Willis. Davis is always solid and Wilson on his three reeds is a major asset. Greene on tenor often takes solo honors due to his extroverted and sometimes rambunctious musical personality and a style that occasionally hints at Don Byas. Willis's solos are tasteful and creative while bassist Washington and drummer Nash have brief spots of their own.
Of Davis' originals, most memorable are the funky mid-60s Blue Note vibe of "A Little Understanding," "Atmosphere" (which inspires a particularly colorful tenor solo), and the uptempo blues "Mountaintop." The latter has an explosive alto solo in the tradition of McLean, and a heated trombone-tenor tradeoff. The group's version of Bobby Hutcherson's best known song ("Little B's Poem") is pretty (with some fine flute playing), "Polka Dots And Moonbeams" is taken quite slow, and a joyful "Love Walked In" gives the chance to jam boppishly on a standard.
Steve Davis had lost his brother just ten days before the recording. He pays tribute to him on the closing "Farewell, Brother" which, rather than being a dirge, is a happy celebration of life.
Think Ahead is an easily recommended and satisfying set of music from the always reliable Steve Davis.
- Scott Yanow