Jesse Davis – Live at Smalls Jazz Club (ENG review)

Cellar Music Group / Smalls LIVE Living Masters - Available

What we know: Originally from New Orleans, Jesse Davis honed his craft by studying with Ellis Marsalis at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. Upon arriving in New York in the late 1980s, Davis made a mark in the “young lions” movement. As a sideman, he played alongside Jack McDuff, Cecil Payne, Cedar Walton, Benny Golson, and Wynton Marsalis. Despite releasing eight acclaimed albums as a leader on Concord Jazz, Davis remains relatively unknown as an alto saxophone hero, partly due to his two decades spent in Italy, becoming a prominent figure in the European jazz scene.
These impressive credentials indicate that this album is steeped in jazz history and a distinct artistic vision. Davis, an easily recognizable saxophonist with his unique sound and a very personal approach to attacking notes, is supported by excellent musicians: Peter Washington on bass, Joe Farnsworth on drums, and Spike Wilner on piano/production.
A great team, you might say? Certainly, because once again, this recording is of very high quality, occasionally challenging the ear as, despite the live sound, there are moments that feel like a studio improvisation session. Pianist and producer Spike Wilner, owner of the Smalls Jazz Club, says, “I met Jesse in 1989, and we became good friends. Jesse hired me for his group and took over on Fridays and Saturdays at Augie’s (which is now Smoke, the Upper West Side jazz club)… I nervously took the train for our gigs, and every weekend, I hung on for dear life. Jesse navigated through complex bebop tunes at breathtaking tempos. Playing that fast was something I had to learn, and I was thrown into the deep end. Sometimes the tempo was so fast that I was like a deer in the headlights – simply stunned, unable to accompany or even play a note. Yet, Jesse believed in me, and we worked together there for over a year. I can’t think of anyone else currently playing with the same alto sound as Jesse. He is a master of the saxophone, a master of rhythm, and a master of swing.
In conclusion, let’s savor this form of art that the Marsalis family honors at all times. Listening to Jesse Davis, it becomes clear why he was chosen to work with them at one point. The art of jazz, its history, bebop, and other styles that have laid the foundations of today’s jazz are perfectly in place in the hands of Jesse Davis, who finds himself well-deservedly among the favorites of Bayou Blue Radio and Paris-Move.

Thierry De Clemensat
USA correspondent – Paris-Move
Editor in chief Bayou Blue Radio, Bayou Blue News

PARIS-MOVE, January 12th 2024


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