Collaborators Dead And Very Much Alive

Jesse Davis
Jesse Davis

The alto saxophonist Jesse Davis, who worked in New York during the late 1980s and ’90s before moving back to his hometown, New Orleans, carries Cannonball Adderley and Charlie Parker in his playing. That’s nothing categorically new, and for some, categorical newness is where validity lives. He seemed to be around a lot 15 years ago — in New York clubs and on records — then not so much. He’s getting into his late 40s now; one could argue that back then he was playing the sort of music he’d be expressing more deeply in middle age. So — have you heard him in a while? On “Live at Smalls” (Smalls Live), recorded last year with a quintet including the pianist Spike Wilner, the trumpeter Ryan Kisor, the bassist Peter Washington and the drummer Billy Drummond, his playing bounces off the walls, arguing and winning its own case. His phrasing is loose, his tone individual, immediate, raucous; it sounds alive, almost electrified. This is jazz with bop, blues and gospel elements, oriented around standards and common-practice harmony, casual but wide awake. There’s a variation on “Sweet Georgia Brown,” a version of “Body and Soul,” a spiritual that narrows down to a bass solo (“Pray Thee/Beyond the Storm”). Each tune lasts more than 10 minutes, but earns its space.

Cyrus Chestnut

Some of the same things could be said about Cyrus Chestnut, who’s only a few years older than Mr. Davis: he’s rooted in gospel and an 80-year-old continuum of piano swing. But on “The Cyrus Chestnut Quartet” (WJ3) he’s got a new band, or at least an expanded one, with the addition of the saxophonist Stacy Dillard. This is all good. Mr. Chestnut has dealt in schlock before, including ’70s AM radio hits and Elvis Presley covers; there’s none of it here. It’s a record of soul ballads, shuffles, waltzes, 4/4 swing and the eight-and-a-half-minute blues “Mustard,” the kind of true and unforced thing that you usually only hear live these days, in second or third sets.

Jesse Stacken

The Brooklyn jazz pianist Jesse Stacken has led a trio with the bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Jeff Davis since 2005. He’s fascinated by rules, and lately he’s been into writing daily or weekly études and self-challenging exercises; on “Bagatelles for Trio” he uses his band to carry out 13 plotted pieces that cut between languages of improvisation and composition. You don’t remember the tunes so much as the ideas behind them. They drive the pieces, introduce various kinds of improvisation into them, bring them to a close. (He’s into Schoenberg, and a few of these use the 12-tone system; he’s also into Morton Feldman, and “Bagatelle No. 5” achieves his slow, floating-sound ideal). Looks fine on paper, but the tacit challenges almost outweigh the articulated ones: in doing this he’s got to make the individual pieces sound like more than the sum of their ideas, and he’s got to sequence them into an album with some narrative or development or flow. I think he’s done it. This is a sharp, well-practiced group, making generous, voluptuous subtleties out of formal ingredients. (Mr. Stacken’s trio will play the music in proper order during its record-release gig on June 29 at the Tenri Cultural Institute in Greenwich Village.

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