Jeff Davis

The Fastness
Fresh Sound New Talent Records FSNT 590

Epitome of contemporary New York Jazz is The Fastness designed to highlight the compositional and playing talents of drummer Jeff Davis. An in-demand associate of everyone from Jesse Stacken to Anna Webber Davis is economical when releasing leadership CDs and spaces his releases accordingly.

He doesn’t have to be that chary since the 11 tracks here serve as a compendium of the influences which preoccupy many young musical veterans. Unsurprisingly the fealty to Bop mainstream followed by the neo-cons of the 1980s has been replaced by an extension of the Fusion sounds that were part of these players introduction to Jazz. That’s why besides Davis using drum kit and vibraphone, Eivind Opsvik playing acoustic bass and Tony Malaby soloing on tenor and soprano saxophones, Jonathan Goldberger specializes in a highly electric Rock-influenced guitar, while Russ Lossing not only plays piano, but also layers the tracks with timbres from Fender Rhodes piano and Hammond B3 organ.

The extended scene-setting “Go Away Glasses” picks this concept up from the first with thick double bass strokes and Mwandishi-style electric piano splashes underscoring a theme propelled by guitar flanges and irregular reed twists. Yet at the same time it and other tracks demonstrate their 21st Century bona fides, by distorting the outcome with organ whooshes and vibes continuum until climaxing with descending drum slaps. That’s another point. While Davis’ use of echoing vibe introductions are frugal, he also never lets his leadership fill the selection with drum solos. Memorable cymbal clashes and drum ruffs stabilize many tracks, but he’s content to let the keyboards, guitar and saxophones take the lead.

This is confidently expressed in the program’s final sounds such as “New Good Brother” and the concluding title track. On the first, an almost prototypical Jazz-Rock effort, the tune’s horizontal motion is preserved after a splashy guitar break and slurring split tones from Malaby by layered organ tremolos and drum shuffles. As for “The Fastness”, guitar licks are more understated and the saxophone exposition more meandering, Yet narrative buoyancy is maintained by piano splashes that cunningly move downwards as the reed line moves northwards amid rambling rattles and pushes from Davis. The ambulatory “Wednesday Shirt” comes across as the most experimental track with the subtle layering of the three lead instruments’ tones interrupted by solos that boost the excitement level. But despite Davis’ incendiary clashes, the shooting guitar licks, harsh reed vibrations and spreading organ runs appear as if they would be more comfortable in a Fusion rather than a Free Jazz situation.

Demonstrating how these players convincingly express Davis’ ideas, the disc suggests that the modern mainstream category is broader than imagined.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Prelude 2. Go Away Glasses 3. Obvious Nemesis 4. Leah’s One 5. Wednesday Shirt 6. Bird Monkey 7. Two Ones 8. Lothlorien 9. New Good Brother 10. Mountains, Mountains, Water 11. The Fastness

Personnel: Tony Malaby (tenor and soprano saxophones); Jonathan Goldberger (guitar)’ Russ Lossing (piano, Fender Rhodes, Hammond B3 organ); Eivind Opsvik (bass) and Jeff Davis (drums and vibraphone)