Possessor of the warmest, most lovingly cultivated clarinet tone in the world today, Kenny Davern is also one of the most uncompromising and single-minded jazz artists who ever lived. Not only has he long shorn his arsenal of all such chop-distractors as baritone, soprano, and C Melody saxophones, but he has also continued to absorb and assimilate into his own voice over the past four decades the best from his favored panoply of predecessors, a highly selective group of odd bedfellows ranging from such models of classic New Orleans purity as Jimmie Noone and Irving Fazola to the timbral, harmonic, and rhythmic renegades, Frank Teschemacher and Pee Wee Russell. Unlike most jazz musicians of his generation, in the 1950s Davern remained untouched by the universally attractive intricacies of bop, but just as perversely, in contrast to the older mainstream jazzmen with whom he worked, he was quick to note the relevance of Monk to the often askew angularity of the phrasing he wanted to develop in his own playing. Indisputably, it is from such imaginative, gumbo-like assortments of influences as these that original styles are born.
On this alternately reflective and swinging session from August 1998, Kenny joins his now inimitable, expressive talents to those of guitarists Howard Alden and Bucky Pizzarelli, bassist Greg Cohen, and drummer Tony DeNicola to produce eight tracks of incontestable excellence. The New Orleans tradition is upheld by the early 1920s "Palesteena" and "That Da Da Strain," numbers initially popularized by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, respectively, and the Jimmie Noone favorites, "Apex Blues" and "Sweet Lorraine," with the latter also including more than a passing allusion to Irving Fazola's 1945 recording. Of no lesser impact are Davern's takes on "Bernie's Tune," "Summertime," "I Must Have That Man," and the closing "Smiles," a long unheard swinger of 1917 vintage.