From pain can come beauty, from great loss can come art. Such transformations are possible, as master saxophonist and composer Charles Davis proves with his stunning new album For the Love of Lori on Reade Street Records.
Dedicated to his wife Lori Samet-Davis, who succumbed to cancer in 2012, this deeply moving tribute to the love of his life (and greatest fan) reveals the 81 year-old Jazz titan at the height of his powers and continuing to evolve his brilliant artistry. With For the Love of Lori, Charles has brought together an inspiring collection of originals and standards that produce powerful and tangible emotional reactions from the listener. An album that demands attention and songs that remain with you long after they are gone.
Charles – whose baritone, alto, soprano and tenor playing have graced the music of a Who’s Who of jazz giants from Billie Holiday, Ben Webster and John Coltrane to Archie Shepp, Abdullah Ibrahim and Sun Ra – focuses entirely on the tenor here. His fluid, muscular and deeply expressive sound tells his stories with equal parts passion and wisdom. As the highly expressive liner notes by Pete Malinverni state so succinctly: "Charles Davis remains an unquestioned master. The shapes of his lines still seem more painted than played, as swaths of feeling whose analyzable elements can be revealed and parsed."There is certainly a somewhat wistful and deeply emotional quality to the music here, but with a pronounced emphasis on the search for beauty and transcendence in loss. That sense of loss is further emphasized by the more recent passing of Cedar Walton – so essential to Charles’ previous Reade Street CD, Blue Gardenia – and who was slated to be on this recording as well. But as this album proves, there is a continuity and spirit of renewal in the profound art of jazz, vividly manifested by the participation of musicians of a younger generation, who respond to the mature wisdom of the saxophonist with extreme sensitivity and depth of understanding.Pianist Rick Germanson pays homage to Cedar’s versatility and consummate musicality throughout the recording. David Williams, a longtime member of Cedar’s trio, contributes his deep warmth and impeccable sensitivity. Drummer Neal Smith’s percussive mastery, flawless rhythm and sublime tastefulness rounds out the sterling rhythm section. Joining Charles on the front line is trombonistSteve Davis and trumpeter Joe Magnarelli.
Davis performs throughout with the fluency and inventiveness that has made him one of the finest and most in-demand trombonists on today’s scene; and Joe’s full-bodied tone, superior lyricism and sheer creativity is perfectly suited to the leader’s vision. This mission of remembrance, forged with raw humanity and the strength of resolution, is offered in eight chapters, including three outstanding Charles Davis originals.
Two standards, whose titles speak to Charles’ wistful walk through grief and memory, are also included – both of which demonstrate the Lester Young/Ben Webster philosophy of focusing upon the lyrics. It’s apparent that both the words and structure of the original songs are front and center in the minds of the players on a buoyant version of Sammy Fain’s I’ll be Seeing You, and the classic balladry of Irving Berlin’s What’ll I Do? Cedar Walton’s Cedar’s Blues is a sizzling up-tempo excursion, stoked by the scintillating groove of the rhythm section, while Julian Priester’s Juliano, is angular and adventurous, with delicious suspensions and syncopation. Putter Smith’s Begues, arranged by Michael Weiss, is an easy swinger with a relaxed call and response structure in the head.
Charles’ three originals cover a diverse spectrum of moods. The boldly robust and exotic Into the Himalayas is highlighted by Charles’ imaginative, exploratory and audacious tenor. Appropriately modal and peppered with dramatic suspended chords, the hard-boppish KD is a dedication to the great trumpeter Kenny Dorham.
The centerpiece of the album is For the Love of Lori, transcending typical balladry in the heart-wrenching loveliness of this paean to love and loss in its highest meaning. Embellished by Germanson’s tender sensitivity and with Magnarelli’s touching solo a reflection of Charles’ love, the framework for Charles’ vehemently emotional tenor is set. A painful wail of wisdom that comes with age where there has been so much loss that it has been resolutely accepted as a simple matter of life. There is something about loss at its most profound that can be transformed into beauty at its most exquisite and precious. That’s exactly what the brilliant Charles Davis has accomplished here and throughout this highly compelling and enthralling album. For more information, visit www.readestreetrecords.com andwww.charlesdavis.biz