A 2014 recipient of the prestigious Brian Boak Bursary, saxophonist Angela Davis follows up her critically acclaimed debut album The Art Of The Melody with a second release entitled Lady Luck (Nicholas Records), featuring an outstanding line-up of musicians and a delightful set of music.
Here, Davis uses talented arranger Steve Newcomb who creates beautiful arrangements for quartet + strings. The jazz quartet features the award-winning Dan Tepfer on piano, bassist Linda Oh and drummer Richie Barshay. The stunning string quartet is made up of some of the most in demand musicians in New York City – Sara Caswell and Joyce Hammann on violin, violist Lois Martin and cellist Noah Hoffeld.
By Richard B. Kamins (http://steptempest.blogspot.com)
Alto saxophonist Angela Davis moved to the United States from her native Australia in 2008 and has steadily been building a career as a musician and educator. Her 2013 debut recording, the aptly-titled “The Art of The Melody“, displayed a honey-like tone, a softer style akin to Lee Konitz and found her happily ensconced in a quartet setting. Ms. Davis’s second CD, “Lady Luck” Nicholas Records) actually features 2 quartets. There’s Dan Tepfer (piano), Richie Barshay (drums) and bassist Linda Oh (who also played on the first disk) plus a string quartet composed of violinists Sara Caswell and Joyce Hammann, violist Lois Martin and cellist Noah Hoffield playing arrangements by fellow Australian transplant Steve Newcomb (the album is produced by the fine Australian trumpeter Mat Jodrell). To record this album, Ms. Davis won the Empire Theatres Foundation Brian Boak Outstanding Performer Bursary, an award given to performers and artists from south-east Queensland, Australia.
“Lady Luck“, which takes its name from a Thad Jones composition, is an album of ballads. Opening with the gentle swing of Jules Styne’s “Make Someone Happy“, it’s plain to hear this is not an ordinary jazz-with-strings date. First and foremost, the rhythm section is extremely active (without being intrusive) behind the soloist and second, the strings are there for more than color, actually supplying counterpoint on the melody section. The dark colors created by the strings set the tone of the lovely version of Michel Legrand’s “You Must Believe In Spring“, providing a cushion for the sweet, clear, tones of the alto saxophone. Brashay’s subtle brush work, Ms. Oh’s foundational bass lines, and Tepfer’s glorious piano solo, all fuse to make this track a highlight of the recording.
3 of the 8 tracks are original works. There’s an intensity to the bop rhythms of “A Thousand Feet From Bergen Street” (getting its name from an incident in which the composer was stuck underground in a New York City subway train) – the strings are truly incidental as this cut allows Tepfer, Ms.Oh, Barshay and Ms. Davis to stretch out. Swing they do, moving through the jaunty melody with great ease and joy (must come from the relief of the train finally moving). “Nola’s Waltz“, dedicated to the saxophonist’s grandmother, also swings but gently this time. Newcomb’s string arrangement does a splendid job of introducing and then ushering out the bass solo, also moving in and out of Ms. Davis’s sweet solo. There is a tenderness as well to “Hymn To The Lonely“, quite noticeable in Tepfer’s fine solo plus a wistful quality to the alto solo.
The program closes with 2 pieces that have a deep spiritual feel. Producer Jodrell’s “Till We Meet Again” skillfully blends its handsome melody with a string arrangement that lingers throughout the piece, like clouds moving across a late afternoon sky. Go back and listen to how Barshay and Ms.Oh move the music, how the alto solo has such a positive, joyous, feel and how Tepfer’s sparkling solo builds off those feelings. The final track, “Abide With Me“, is a hymn by William Henry Monk from the 19th Century. The duo of Ms. Davis and Tepfer play through the melody and then create variations as the song moves forward (the gentle quality of the alto phrases is a fine counterpoint to the flowing lines of the piano) and the closing minute is simply lovely.
As I intimated at the top of the post, music can and often does takes out of the mundane. That music need not be complicated nor thunderous to achieve the goal the listener desires (although, for some people, the sheer volume of a hard rock song can be a day-changer). “Lady Luck” illustrates how saxophonist/composer Angela Davis can, with the help of gifted collaborators, create a musical environment that exudes great emotion and, especially, joy.