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Steve Davis: Say When

What worked for J.J. Johnson will work for Steve Davis-that’s the apparent logic behind Say When, Davis’ competent but ultimately middling tribute to his and all bebop trombonists’ forefather. Davis expresses in the liner notes his desire for the world to hear Johnson’s music, but the strength of that desire paints him into a corner. The music is so thoroughly Johnson’s that it neglects to be Davis’.

The trombonist has done fine work in the past, especially on his own writing. Here, his sextet (trumpeter Eddie Henderson, tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Nat Reeves, drummer Joe Farnsworth) assays six Johnson compositions, along with two of his standard arrangements, an original tribute by Mabern and two tangentially related tunes. Davis’ most inventive touch is to add a voice to the arrangement of “What Is This Thing Called Love?”; otherwise he plays them as Johnson did. Even the bitonal take on “When the Saints Go Marching In,” easily Say When‘s most interesting moment, comes from Johnson.

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