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For his latest album Bluesthetic, trombonist/composer Steve Davis recruits a gang of old friends, many of whom he’s been playing with for decades. Pianist Geoffrey Keezer was his bandmate in the final lineup of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, while bassist Christian McBride has been his boss in McBride’s eponymous big band. Drummer Willie Jones III has been in Davis’ engine room for years, while vibist Steve Nelson and guitarist Peter Berenstein joined the ‘boner in the frontline for his classic late 90s album Vibe Up! That familiarity – with each other’s playing, with the leader’s writing style – breeds a relaxed atmosphere on Bluesthetic that makes it almost effortlessly enjoyable. Davis favors melodic, swinging hard bop that creates catchy tunes while still giving the soloists plenty of space. Indeed, the others occupy more room than the boss – Davis nearly always states a song’s main theme, but he’s happy to cede the spotlight to Nelson, Keezer and Bernstein at nearly every opportunity. That generosity leads to performances that are about ensemble expression of the melodies more than round-robin improvisation, meaning “Silver at Sundown,” “Indigo at Azure” and “A Star For Chick,” a hard-swinging tribute to the late Chick Corea (with whom Davis was a frequent flyer), may linger in the memory in unexpected ways.
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