When Ron Carter writes album notes for another bass player, I take notice. After hearing this album, I think even non-bassists will agree Kenny Davis deserves the praise. Whether soloing or under the top line with well-chosen harmonic support, his articulation is clean, his intonation dead-on, his tone rich and full. Unusual for even a bass-led group, the bowed solo on the heartfelt "Gone too Soon" makes it the date's best track. Davis goes to bluesy plucking on "Before Sunrise," and it's another outstanding cut.
When you look at the rest of these talented musicians, that's saying something. Billy Kilson, who's been performing with Dave Holland for over 10 years, helps kick start the release with "1st Arrival," a vibrant, splashy duo with Davis. The edgy perennial Downbeat favorite Geri Allen is the most familiar name on the following track, "Fearless." David Gilmore and Dave Bowen also solo. Gilmore is lyrical, Bowen sharper edged.
The pace slows with "Deliverance." Eddie Allen, Javon Jackson and Gerri Allen are featured in solos drenched in the casual, lazy feel of Davis's original. He wrote all these tunes except for "Too High" by Stevie Wonder and "Tenderly" by Walter Gross. Jackson's fleet and fluent solo on the Wonder composition is impressive. Bowen too is worthwhile on "Tenderly," but his tenor tone wasn't the best choice for a statement of the familiar melody. Rather than tender he sounds, if only unintentionally, a little bored and even mocking. His Trane-like intro on the first chorus makes up for the initial impression, and though the tonal style is similar, his soprano works well throughout the original ballad "Elviry."
Davis hits a wide range of moods and emotions on the date—from beautiful to hard driven, and reflective to brash. Group size also varies, from the solo bass of "Before Sunrise" to several quintet tracks. And there are a few surprises along the way such as Don Byron's kinky clarinet on the noirish "What Lies Beyond." Think goblins, elves, and a most palpable ogre.
This album hasn't received much notice. That's a shame. The leader plays well, writes well and has terrific coconspirators. Would Ron Carter or I steer you wrong? There's much here to admire and enjoy.