Billie Davies – Hand In Hand In The Hand Of The Moon (2015)

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Hand In Hand In The Hand Of The Moon is the first album drummer, composer and bandleader Billie Davies recorded since wrapping up a successful, five-year stay in Los Angeles and heading east to the more exotic environs of New Orleans. The Old World charm-meets-New World adventurism of the Crescent City suits the Belgium-born and raised Davies, and the mere change of location added a new wrinkle in her music.

Davies’ brand of jazz remains the bedrock of her music: she strips the music down its foundation and builds it back up with free but purposeful movement. Further, she’s at her best when she is creating live and on the spot. For Hand In Hand In The Hand Of The Moon, her first record of her New Orleans era, Davies brings those attributes with her and she gets a taste of Nola in return with a new band she filled with locals: Alex Blaine on tenor sax, Branden Lewis on trumpet, Evan Oberla on trombone and Ed Strohsahl on acoustic bass.

The material goes back twenty years earlier, when Davies was still in Belgium. She conceived a series of pieces that in turn inspired a set of paintings by the late Belgian visual artist Serge Vandercam (you can view the paintings here). Had Vandercam heard the songs played with this expressive, sometimes festive, horn section, he might have produced different paintings. Though they don’t do any Dixieland or funeral parades, the spirit of the city’s rich cultural heritage manages to influence these sessions, as in “In The Hand Of The Moon,” where Lewis’ trumpet set the passionate tone by leaves aching remarks. All three get dirge-y in a very expressive and free way during the time Davies and Strohsahl keep the proceedings rooted and provide general direction.

During “The Bridge” and in other instances, three-way improv breaks out, suggesting trad jazz but without a road map. Typically, band members will take turns introducing opening remarks, and the rest of the ensemble build from that. “Tiburon,” for example, begins with a trumpet figure, join by Oberla’s countervailing harmonic part on trombone, and Blaine’s sax tosses in an ‘amen’ at the end of each bar. As the three begin to simmer together for some uncharted fun, Davies unexpectedly breaks out a swing rhythm and the band is firing on all five cylinders.

A good way to gauge Davis’ drumming in isolation is through the solo drum performance “prelude. Hand In Hand In The Hand Of The Moon.” She demonstrates a mastery of drums that goes well beyond technique; she is able to tell a story with it. And when the music moves from this track to the next with the full band involved, she doesn’t change her drumming style because her approach is so adaptive and pliable.

Adapting to new environs is what Gypsies do well after all, and Billie Davies’ latest stop in her musical journey is a fruitful pairing of what she brought into town with what the town brought to her.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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