Jesse Davis: Live From New York's Other Basement Club | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Jesse Davis: Live From New York's Other Basement Club

Play associated audio

Many jazz musicians, the kind who wear jackets and ties on stage, are often carelessly referred to as playing bebop. In reality most of them are post-boppers, who build on that dynamic style that burst forth after World War II, without bringing it back in pure form. It's the rare modernist who gets an authentic bebop sound on alto saxophone, who catches some of the raw explosiveness and rapid-fire grace of jazz god Charlie Parker. And then there's Jesse Davis.

Charlie Parker never recorded the 1945 ballad "I'll Close My Eyes," but Davis' version made me check. His bluesy rasp is straight out of Parker's playbook. Ditto the way he strings unlikely notes into a pretty melody, his double-time precision and left-field quotations from other tunes. But Davis speaks that style like a native language; he makes it his own.

This music appears on the Jesse Davis Quintet's album Live at Smalls, Smalls being New York's other basement jazz club on (or just off) Seventh Avenue South, two minutes from the Village Vanguard. Davis' music is very New York, even if he came out of New Orleans, city with its own bebop tradition, personified by Davis' teacher, Ellis Marsalis. But there are also traces of earlier jazz in Davis' approach. There's a bit of swing altoist Benny Carter in the way he caresses a ballad, and Davis' tune "Piece of the Apple" is a revamped "Sweet Georgia Brown." On trumpet is his old colleague from the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Ryan Kisor.

Giving venerable tunes a face-lift is part of what jazz is about: It's an ongoing mix of old and new ingredients. Davis is no antiquarian; he brought a couple more contemporary-sounding tunes, including "Journey From the Lighthouse." His bassist, Peter Washington, and drummer, Billy Drummond, are two esteemed modernists who've been meeting in studios and on bandstands for more than 20 years.

The least known player in his quintet is pianist Spike Wilner, who runs the club where the music was recorded, and the label, Smalls Live, that put it out. I get skeptical when the guy who signs the checks joins the band, but Wilner and Davis go way back, and the pianist acquits himself well, joining in the quotation games. Jesse Davis' Live at Smalls features unedited tunes running 10 or 20 minutes, with applause and introductions left in — verite touches that don't wear so well on repeated listening. But the album is a good portrait of high-level nightclub jazz in our time.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

There's Never A Dull Moment On This Trans-Siberian Adventure

Steve Inskeep talks with Morning Edition's own David Greene about his new book Midnight in Siberia, a chronicle of his trip — in third class — across Russia aboard the Trans-Siberian Express.
NPR

Chef Ottolenghi Makes The Case For 'Plenty More' Vegetables

Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi talks with Rachel Martin about the difference between supermarket hummus and Middle Eastern hummus and why he doesn't like to call his cookbooks "vegetarian."
NPR

N.H. Senate Race Becomes Focal Point For Both Parties

Incumbent Democrat Sen. Jeanne Shaheen had maintained a lead over the Republican field throughout the year in the swing state. But Republican Scott Brown, former Massachusetts senator, has closed the gap since his nomination in September.
NPR

Getting Medical Advice Is Often Just A Tap Away

NPR's Arun Rath speaks with infectious disease specialist and HealthTap member Dr. Jonathan Po about telemedicine and hypochondria in a time of heightened health concern.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.