Review by Brad Walseth
Anyone who doubts that jazz is alive and well need look no further than the streets of Chicago to get their record set straight. Young artists like Corey Wilkes, Jabari Liu, Keefe Jackson, Gary Tu, Justin Dillard, Shawn Maxwell, Pete Carney, Darwin Noguera, Joel Moore, Pat Mallinger, Jason Steele and many more are keeping the music fresh and exciting, making it an exciting time for jazz fans here in the Windy City. Another young group – the James Davis Quintet has recently released their debut disc – "Angles of Refraction" and it is another fine testament to the talent and creativity of the players involved and the vitality of the young Chicago scene.
"Angles" features several players who are making a name for themselves on the local scene, starting with trumpeter James Davis, a Masters grad from North Texas and finalist in the 2007 Carmine Caruso Int'l. Trumpet Competition, now located in Chicago, whose chops are matched by his velvety tone. Davis is joined here by his wife, the up-and-coming young saxophone star, Caroline Davis, whose intelligent and sensitive work with a number of different ensembles around Chicago has garnered considerable attention and acclaim. These two are joined by pianist Sean McCluskey, a Northwestern Masters grad who has performed with Bobby Broom. Dennis Carroll and Joel Spencer among others, and who appears here exclusively on Fender Rhodes. Bassist Jeff Greene is also a rising star, working with several groups around town, while drummer Jon Deitemyer has worked with artists like Patricia Barber, Grazyna Auguscilk, Greg Osby, Sam Barsh and Zach Brock and the Coffee Achievers. These artists may still be young, but they have years of experience and it shows in this surprisingly mature release.
The music here is confident and in control at all times and the players play extremely well together. The two Davises' horns move in such an uncanny synchronicity as to give the music an extra effect of ultra-sensitivity (listen to the way the two wrap their lines around each other on "On the Fly"). James’ flugelhorn is especially burnished and effortless, while Caroline's riffs, as always sparkle with inner spirit. The contributions of the supporting cast to their front line is wonderful: McCluskey's shimmering keyboard lines add to the fun, while with the rhythm section shows they deserve the faith put in them by their bandleader with their solid, yet inventive work.
These James Davis-penned songs are mostly highly-developed, mid-tempo, mainstream (in the best sense) compositions with very slight touches of rock and modern pop music flavoring the mix. "Cotton" is cottony soft and smooth, building to an anthemic climax, highlighted by exceptional solo turns by all, while "For Another Time" is a fast-paced burner featuring great work from all, especially Caroline Davis burning up her alto sax. Some other gems include James Davis’ delicious flugelhorn solos on "Plastic Piano" and "Fair Enough," McCluskey’s Rhodes solos on “Plastic Piano” and the rocking "As it Were," Greene’s tasty bass solo on "Reciprocal," Caroline’s angular solo on “None of the Above” and Deltemeyer's intro on "For Another Time" and sonic bursts on “In Between.” But it is hard to single out moments when the playing and songwriting are as consistently good as they are here throughout. Finally, the recording/mixing by Brian Schwab is clear yet warm and balanced, not unlike the music itself, truly enhancing the listening pleasure.
Available on Chicago’s own Ears&Eyes records, "Angles of Refraction" is a suggested addition to your collection of 2007 releases, featuring enjoyable music filled with dreamy atmospheric, lovely tones and stimulating solo forays played by an ensemble of young musicians who are making a name for themselves in the exciting Chicago jazz arena.