Jon Davis – One Up Front (2013)

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Born in NYC, pianist and composer Jon Davis came back to his hometown in the early 90s only after stops at the New England Conservatory, Boston and San Francisco. Along the way he learned under or performed with Lennie Tristano, Jaki Byard, Ran Blake, The John Handy Quartet, Eddie Henderson, Johnny Coles, Buddy Montgomery, Joe Henderson, Milt Jackson, and Stan Getz, Larry Grenadier, and Jeff Ballard. But he gained perhaps the most visible fame up to that time when he collaborated with drummer Brian Melvin in a band led by Melvin, because this was also the time when Jaco Pastorius was working with him, too. They toured and made records together, including the final Pastorius recording, the all-acoustic trio date led by Melvin Standards Zone (1986). Davis lent songs to these sessions, most distinctly, “Wedding Waltz.”

Coming back to New York, Davis has enjoyed extended stints in some of the best-known jazz clubs in town including The Blue Note, Smalls, the Sweet Basil and the Smoke and served as a sideman in innumerable bands.

For someone who hadn’t put out a record under his own name until 2010, that’s a pretty impressive resume he built up before taking that step.

In following up How Insensitive And Other Ballads, Davis is ready to do it again. One Up Front will be his second release this year, though Beauty And The Blues is a Japan-only offering. I hadn’t heard Beauty, but I can already see two things One Up Front has going for it: it’s got some of Davis’ originals mingling with the standards, and it’s on Posi-Tone Records, a label with a stellar rep for mainstream jazz records of consistent quality of both performance and production. Davis’ label debut falls right in line with those characteristics.

Davis leads a trio with Joris Teepe on acoustic bass and Shinnosuke Takahashi on drums, who lend solid support and bolster Davis, a very polished and articulate pianist. One Up Front is one very soothing set; even when they playing at a quick tempo or playing clustered lines, it feels light and nimble footed. There’s not much risking taking involved, but the crisp execution is plenty enough enjoyable on its own.

We know right form the start that Davis’ interpretive skills are intact: Horace Silver’s “Strollin'” is assisted by a smooth rhythm section with a suave swing. Davis’ crisp piano is unhurried with a natural flow, and everyone displays an attenuated touch. Cole Porter’s “You’re The Top” is played at a rapid pace, with Davis coyly playing around the theme and dispersing sheets of sound, piano style. “My Ideal” is played with a sensitivity that’s subtly sublime, and Davis brings Teepe and Takahashi out front for “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” encouraging them to each play right alongside of him on this funky rendition, one after the other.

However well the group handles the covers, it’s the originals set this record apart. Teepe contributes “Candid Camera” a relaxed, near bossa nova with an esoteric melody and a nocturnal mood. Davis’ “No Kiddin'” keeps fooling me into thinking that they are launching into Thelonious Monk’s “Ruby My Dear” before the melody goes off in a different direction. Gradually, the band picks up steam, blooming into a lithe, 6/8 vehicle for Davis’ sure-footed expressions. “Sir Dude,” also from Davis, is constructed from a beckoning, circular bass figure and features intricate drum work from Takahashi.

Jon Davis finally mixes up standards with some real appealing tunes of his own for One Up Front, signaling that his stint with Posi-Tone will yield a much belated spurt of superlative records that Davis probably had inside of him for decades. It’s great that he’s brought at least one of those records out “up front,” and the hope is that he’ll do more like this one. He’s been long overdue.

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One Up Front is expected out June 18, via Posi-Tone Records. Visit Jon Davis’ website for more info.

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