Review – Jeff Davis’ “We Sleep Outside”

Just finished this article, which will appear in the July 2010 print version of All About Jazz-NY.

Fans of progressive jazz know Jeff Davis, if not by name, then as the propulsive force behind bassist Michael Bates, multireedist Oscar Noriega, and a host New York mainstays. The Colorado native’s articulate, often-fiery brand of percussion has precedence in the styles of Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette, but transcends them through a process of de and reconstruction, and an episodic style that carries over into his compositions. Recorded in 2007, Davis’ debut as a leader, “We Sleep Outside,” is a remarkably assured document that finds the astute drummer in the company of a quartet of first-rate improvisers.

“Bruce And Brunost Suite” opens the album and features the quintet at its most open. Following a declaratory unison, Tony Barba’s emotive tenor emerges before being swallowed up by the ensemble. It’s a device that Davis employs throughout the album, blurring the lines between solo and ensemble passages and lending a fluidity to the thirteen minute track that makes for a hypnotically satisfying listen. Equally engrossing is Davis’ knack for layering textures and rhythms. Despite extended legato sections, Davis and bassist Eivind Opsvik sustain a sort of tidal pulse beneath Barba, trumpeter Kirk Knuffke, guitarist Jon Goldberger and Kris Davis’ Fender Rhodes that drives the piece and is accentuated by moments of pointillistic counterpoint.

Davis’ considerable composition skills also feature prominently in “Black Beard.” Following an extended drum solo, the ensemble erupts in chaotic response before collectively hurtling into a swift, thru-composed passage in 7/8 time. In addition to being a compositional showcase, “Black Beard” is an example of Davis’ skills as an arranger, and his ability to fully utilize his ensemble. Throughout “We Sleep Outside,” Davis, the composer/arranger shows that he has as much control over his ensemble as he does on his instrument, whether he is pushing the horns to the stratospheric heights of their ranges, or composing a line that transitions seamlessly into a solo.

The album concludes with the title track — an ominously inflected electro-acoustic soundscape that finds the quintet whittled down to just the rhythms section. It’s a departure from the six proceeding tracks, but its focus on tension, texture as well as a meditative aura make it a fitting foil and satisfying conclusion.

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