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Kenny Davern Quartet: In Concert at the Outpost Performance Space, Albuquerque, 2004

If turning toward a new Kenny Davern album for novelty is foolhardy, rejecting it for its familiarity is equally dumb-witted. Davern offers swing clarinet playing of the highest order, his regal interpretations of standards from the first three decades of jazz history as bracing and intelligent as any you could hope for. Supported by a sympathetic rhythm team including guitarist James Chirillo and bassist Greg Cohen, whose idiom-shifting versatility is reminiscent of ’60s-era Charlie Haden, when that iconic bassist played with both Ornette Coleman and Pee Wee Russell, the master clarinetist is firmly in his element.

Davern makes telling use of a stylistic blend that plays a gorgeous woody tone, superior instrumental control and easeful melodic ideas off piping tones and sotto voce utterances that call to mind Russell’s artful eccentricities. Davern also likes to subtly tweak expected repertoire; “These Foolish Things,” “Summertime,” “Royal Garden Blues” and “Somebody Stole My Gal” may be as familiar to the traditionalist environment as beer and peanuts, but W.C. Handy’s “Ole Miss” and “Careless Love” and Ben Pollack’s “Speadin’ Knowledge Around” are charming left-field choices. Bringing rare beauty to it all, Davern and company reinforce the comfort of consistency.

Originally Published