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Kenny Davern: Breezin’ Along

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Knowing no equal within his community of fellow jazz clarinetists, Kenny Davern’s tone is large, broad, woody, and warm in the manner of his primary New Orleans influences, Jimmie Noone and Irving Fazola, yet it can also summon up the urgency and raging heat of his Chicago-styled mentors, Frank Teschemacher and Pee Wee Russell. But there is so much more to Davern’s finely honed artistry than sound and articulation alone. He is also a master of thoughtful improvisation, one who shapes his phrases with the trained eye of a master sculptor, ever chary of wasting a stroke. Davern is also a man of outspoken convictions. After more than 40 years of playing jazz with the best, he knows what he wants and he knows who will give it to him.

Although an excellent ensemble contrapuntalist, he prefers working in smaller contexts, such as the one he chose for this recording. Eschewing the piano for reasons of harmonic and fixed-pitch tyranny, he opted for single-string guitar soloist Howard Alden as his front-line foil and foremost chordal stylist Bucky Pizzarelli as his main rhythm man, with bassist Greg Cohen and drummer Tony DeNicola nailing down the time with unerring swing. Two tunes closely associated with Bix open the album, with the up-tempo “Since My Best Gal Turned Me Down” bringing out Davern’s inimitable synthesis of Noone and Pee Wee and “Jazz Me Blues” providing incontestable proof that inventive minds can always find something new to say, even on well-worn themes.

This investigatory spirit is maintained throughout the program as each succeeding track reveals increasingly fresh ideas. Following the anthemic “Rose Room,” which elicits wholly different responses from each of the Charlie Christian-inspired guitarists, we hear a Gallically swung “Dark Eyes,” a blues-tinged “Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home?,” a deliciously pitch-bent “My Honey’s Lovin’ Arms,” a profoundly sensual, Ben Webster-like “I Surrender Dear,” a relaxed “Exactly Like You,” the minor blues, “My Mama Socks Me,” and the optimistically swinging “Breezin’ Along With The Breeze” Alden and Pizzarelli are also featured on every track in solos, trades with each other and with Davern, Cohen, and DeNicola and in their superb rhythmic support of the clarinetist. With no negatives to report, this is a worthy contender for Jazz Record Of The Year.