Caroline Davis’ debut as a leader is her second appearance on record overall, so in that sense the Chicagoan comes out of nowhere. She arrives, however, with total self-confidence. There’s just an edge of coarseness in her alto sax, just enough to add bite to sure-handed melodic travails like “Kowtow” and pathos to “Blood Count.” But the real impressive part is her rhythmic foundation: She swings (“Craftsmanship and Emptiness”) and grooves (“Passive Cloud”) assertively, and on solos like “Cheryl” deals out rests and accents like a card shark. “Passive Cloud” and the joyful “Dionysus” also mark Davis as a poised composer-still, the disc’s strongest tune is guitarist Mike Allemana’s “Academic Freedom Suite, Part 1.” Allemana himself is one of the disc’s highlights, both undergirding and gorgeously contrasting with Davis (and taking a superb spotlight of his own on “Real Rims for Kalvin,” otherwise a feature for drummer Jeremy Cunningham). Still, there’s no doubt who’s in charge on Live Work & Play.