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Concert Review: Steve Davis at Smalls

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

By

Steve Davis Jazz Trombone
Courtesy of the Artist
A stalwart in the east coast jazz scene since his first gig with Art Blakey in 1989, Steve Davis gained notoriety playing with such legends as Jackie McLean, Chick Corea, and Freddie Hubbard, as well as the contemporary jazz collective One For All. Recent years have seen Davis become more active as a bandleader, releasing three albums since 2008 including Live at Smalls – Steve Davis Quintet feat. Larry Willis (Small's Live 2009). This Spring, Davis' quintet returned to the Greenwich Village club for two nights of polished arrangements of standards and original compositions.

Standing in the tradition of Curtis Fuller, Davis showcases the warm, velvety tone of the trombone's lower register. His style, full yet dexterous, is particularly well-suited to hard bop, and his interpretation of standards is tasteful and understated. Listening to Davis' tone, I was reminded of Slide Hampton, who seems to prefer ever-larger-bored instruments as his career progresses. Davis achieves the same richness as Hampton without sacrificing the instrument's high range, which he explores expertly, if less frequently than other trombonists.

The quintet's first set at Smalls on Saturday, April 3rd, included Richard Rogers' "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top," Miles Davis' "Milestones," and Thelonius Monk's "Round Midnight:" familiar standards that can sound trite in the hands of young improvisers. The Steve Davis Quintet, on the other hand, showed masterful creativity in their improvisations. Each tune had been faithfully arranged, and the tightness of ensemble hits showed an attention to detail. From their suited attire to their ensemble polish, the quintet exuded the kind of professionalism that has become rarer among the younger generation.

Maturity is the characteristic that distinguishes this ensemble, shown by their listening and control. When saxophonist Mike DiRubbo decides to crank his solo up a notch, bassist Dezron Douglas is right on his heels. When pianist Larry Willis dives into a polyrhythmic ostinato, drummer Joe Farnsworth eggs him on with a smile.

All this in the context of Smalls Jazz Club, packed to the rafters, with standing patrons hovering over seats like vultures. In previous reviews I've often lamented the spread-out sterility of larger venues. Now, after two hours of awkwardly shifting my weight from one foot to the other and being nudged around by every bathroom-bound jazz fan in the Village, I'm ready to concede that sometimes those big concert halls are really, really nice.

Personnel:

  • Steve Davis – Trombone
  • Larry Willis – Piano
  • Mike DiRubbo – Alto Sax
  • Dezron Douglas – Bass
  • Joe Farnsworth – Drums
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