An Intriguing Evening With Trombone, Vocals and a Quintet in Chinatown Tomorrow Night
There’s an especially interesting show tomorrow night, June 9 at the Django at 10:30 PM which originally had trombonist Steve Davis, a purposeful but equally outside-the-box player, headlining. It turns out that it’s his wife Abena Koomson-Davis – leader of protest song choir the Resistance Revival Chorus – who’s fronting a quintet including her husband alongside pianist Rick Germanson, bassist Nat Reeves and drummer Jason Tiemann. Cover is $25.
Koomson-Davis’ choral group got the thumbs-up here for an early performance at City Winery in 2017, so it should be interesting to see what political fearsomeness she brings to the stage in a more intimate setting. One counterintuitive choice of album to get ready for the show with is Onward & Upward, the next-to-last recording by the great drummer Ralph Peterson. It came out during the black hole of 2020, features Davis on trombone and is streaming at Spotify. The album title also has special resonance for this blog because it’s a key line from the best song released that year, Battery Park by Karla Rose.
The record is a continuation of Peterson’s late-career determination to carry on the Art Blakey legacy. The focus is hard-hitting riffs and solo-centric arrangements, perhaps ironically with more focus than the Blakey band tended to have. It’s mostly a series of quintet numbers featuring a mix of established and up-and-coming talent.
They open with the sleek, vampy Forth and Back, packed with short punchy solos from trumpeter Phillip Harper, tenor saxophonist Jean Toussaint, alto saxophonist Craig Handy, pianist Joanne Brackeen and bassist Peter Washington, eventually ceding to the bandleader, who goes to the well for a light-fingered display of boom.
Bassist Melissa Slocum has balletesque fun through a couple of solos in the tightly swinging Sonora, tenor saxophonist Craig Handy taking the energy up several notches. Davis and Harper bubble and soar before Peterson works his way around his legendary, orchestral-size kit.
The group scamper through the album’s title track on the pulse of Zaccai Curtis’ piano, Davis choosing his spots before handing off to Harper and then Peterson. Waltz For Etienne and Ebony begins bright and brassy and shifts to a coy series of follow-me phrases and a devious solo bass outro.
Robin Eubanks gets a long, goodnaturedly burbling trombone solo in the tightly swaying Red Black and Green Blues, trumpeter Brian Lynch driving it upward. Un Poco Haina, a Curtis tune, has a characteristically hard-hitting, syncopated latin attack with the pianist firing off spirals and handing off to bassist Essiet Essiet.
Tenor saxophonist Bill Pierce contributes Sudan Blue, a brisk swing tune with a whirling Kevin Eubanks guitar solo, the composer flying overhead., The group go back to waltz time for Davis’ dusky, gorgeous, distantly flamenco-tinged Portrait of Lord Willis, with his calm, stately solo. calmly and efficiently.
Brackeen’s Tricks of the Trade is a rapidfire vehicle for Lynch and Toussaint solos, while Lynch’s El Grito, a bitingly syncopated latin septet tune, gets a spectacular, quote-filled solo from Curtis and a sizzling timbale solo from Reinaldo Dejesus. They close with bassist Lonnie Plaxico’s funky, vampy Along Came Benny. with cheery solos from Handy, Lynch and Robin Eubanks.
What killed Peterson? An aggressive cancer, which is a common consequence of the lethal Covid injection. He taught at Berklee, which requires it.