Friday, February 16, 2024

Steve Davis - Music (1970 us, marvelous blend of jazz, funk soul, folk, psych rock)

Steve Davis’s Music (1970) is appropriately named – this LP contains sounds that range from acoustic folk all the way to hard bop.  Davis shows his versatility as a composer on this record; it is exploratory and delves into a variety styles.  Many of these tunes utilize a typical jazz structure, providing a great deal of freedom for experimentation and soloing within the music.  Everyone in the band is given a chance to express themselves during the solo sections of Davis’s musical landscapes, allowing for the technical ability of his ensemble to really shine.  Ultimately, Music is a great example of how jazz can be stylistically implemented within a variety of genres.

The record begins with Destination Altitude – an assertive introduction which features a thumping horn section over Davis’s Hammond  licks and driving vocal line.  Percussionist Karl Himmel anticipates Davis’s tempo changes before he even plays them, allowing Bentley Smith to accentuate his guitar solo over the newly altered beat with ease.  Himmel breaks the beat in half for the guitarist, who shreds a Hendrix-esque solo over the colorful organ chords.

Space is one of the album’s more striking tracks, particularly because of its seamless transition from a hard-rock style refrain into a slow-swinging jazz section.  The aggressive tone of Bentley Smith once again takes charge, yet he steps aside for both the cosmic tones of Davis’ vibraphone and young saxophonist Billy Harper (who would later play with the great Elvin Jones) during the jazzier passage.  The best way to describe this section of Space would be to imagine dimly lit, smoky jazz club.

Davis steps aside as lead vocalist for It’s All Because She’s Gone and is replaced by Jim Hurt, the ensemble’s bassist.  The track begins with Hurt’s serenading vocal line on top of swinging instrumentation courtesy of Davis, Harper, and Kimmel.  This tune, being the longest cut on the album, is appropriately separated in two parts.  The latter features a lengthy solo by Bentley Smith, played in a similar vein to Grant Green or Wes Montgomery.  He plays with a dynamic intensity that shows his ability to remain subdued in tone while at the forefront of the group.

Lalune Blanche is my favorite cut off of this record.  It contains Davis’s best vocals; he sings beautifully melodic phrases (“Emily” is credited for Davis’s French lesson on this one) while playing wonderfully voiced chords on his B-3.  Harper and Kimmel are the supporting facets of Davis’s performance, backed by Hurt’s baselines which never cease to stop moving.  In addition, Billy Harper rips a lengthy solo towards the middle of the tune, in the vein of Tom Scott.  Of all the chances he has to shine on this date, Lalune Blanche is the one that Harper truly takes advantage of.  It is the most conversational of his solos thus far; he establishes a clear dialogue with Davis, Hurt,  and Kimmel.  Harper reacts incredibly well to the movements that the other musicians make, and this part of the tune amounts to wonderfully executed 4-part improvisation between bass, drums, saxophone, and organ.

I only have a minute complaint about the record; it seems to lack consistency.  There are very short, folky tracks on the album that seem out of place within the scope of the project.  That being said, these tracks are both wonderful and brief enough to be considered secondary.  They don’t do anything to take away from the album as a whole, and only after several listens do they really seem out of place.

Overall, Music is a great accomplishment.  For 1970 it’s far ahead of its time, and Davis’s compositions should be considered progressive to say the least.  That being said, he never oversteps any boundary that might take away from the seriousness of this work, and some of the tunes on here are really far-out.  It’s clear that a great deal of thought and conceptualization went into this recording; Davis managed to through eight songs together that sound nothing alike, and maintains a common overtone throughout.  From the folksy to psychedelic sounds, it’s pretty clear that the guys playing on this record are rooted in jazz.  I get the feeling that Davis’s had a clear intention with this project, and it seems like he may have tailored his compositions for a particular sounding group; one that would be able to apply jazz in a wide range of musical contexts.
The Vinyl Station, June 10, 2014
1. Destination Altitude - 4:04
2. Poor Child Of The Street - 6:47
3. Space - 4:05
4. Please Come Back Home - 3:17
5. On A Sad Day - 2:01
6. It's All Because She's Gone - 8:21
7. My Life Could Be Better Without You - 4:01
8. Lalune Blanche - 5:27
All compositions by Steve Davis

*Steve Davis - Organ, Chimes, Vibes, Lead Vocals
*Bentley Smith - Guitar
*George Clinton - Piano, Back Vocals
*Willliam Harper - Sax
*Harvey Thompson - Flute
*Wayne Hill, Trumpet - Fl├╝gelhorn
*Jim Hurt, Vocal - Bass 
*Wayne Butler - Alto Saxophone
*Karl Himmel, Drums, Percussion 
*Norm Ray - Baritone Sax, Flute
*Bill Pippin - Trumpet, Fl├╝gelhorn 
*Dick Miller - Trumpet, Flugelhorn