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Jon Davis: Happy Juice (Posi-Tone)

Review of trio album by pianist paying tribute to his music heroes

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Cover of Jon Davis album Happy Juice
Jon Davis album Happy Juice

For this trio set, pianist Jon Davis, accompanied by bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Mark Ferber, sets forth his intentions unambiguously. The 10 songs here are intended to honor the five pianists whose 1960s work Davis most admires: Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans. Davis has chosen one representative composition by each master, and then matches them with five of his own, inspired by his heroes.

It’s a gamble, perhaps—can any contemporary pianist successfully absorb and rearticulate the essence of such diverse, cornerstone players?—but a winning one. The way Davis makes it work is by not attempting to mimic. The interpretations honor their creators by placing their work into new settings; the original music more than hints at the muses behind it, but Davis is enough of an original stylist that nothing feels copied. In the end, there’s an inviting consistency of spirit and style throughout these performances.

Take the two Evans-related tracks: On “The Two Lonely People,” Davis spends nearly half the tune setting up the theme solo, very much as Evans did on his 1971 recording. The rhythm section enters tentatively, Ferber brushing, Kozlov plucking sparingly, Davis only digging into the melody with true gusto with a little more than a minute to go. “Bred on Red,” Davis’ Evans-like original, takes a similar approach at first, the pianist channeling Evans’ block chording before opening up more freely as the trio expands its exploration.

So it goes throughout. Davis’ true skill here, exemplified gratifyingly on tracks like Corea’s “Tones for Joan’s Bones,” Hancock’s “Speak Like a Child” and the tribute numbers, is in understanding why he wants to play these masters’ music and how best to put their ideas to use on his own terms.

Preview, buy or download songs from the album Happy Juice by Jon Davis on iTunes.

Originally Published