Saturday, October 7, 2017

'Bone Power: Michael Davis' "Hip-Bone Big Band"

Michael Davis: Hip-Bone Big Band

Every so often, a cd falls through the cracks; I either don’t get to it in a timely manner or I miss it completely. I make it a goal to generally try to listen to everything that is sent to me, but sometimes even though the spirit is willing my execution falls short of my intentions.

So it was with this one. I just discovered trombonist Michael Davis’s release Hip-Bone Big Band buried beneath my pile, and although it was recorded and released back in August of 2016, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to give a passing acknowledgement to this fine album after finally getting to take a listen.

At fifty-six years of age, Davis is a clinician, an educator and a sought-after trombonist, having had stints in the big bands of Buddy Rich, Bob Mintzer, and Woody Herman and having toured with the Rolling Stones to name just a few. On Hip-Bone Big Band, this accomplished musician proves he is also a top-notch arranger/composer, presenting nine original and three re-imagined songs that just burst with one of the most energized, vibrant big band sounds being recorded today. Davis proves there certainly is power in them there 'bones.

Davis knows the strengths of the musicians in his ensemble- on this recording all top-tier New York session musicians. The group jabs, swells, growls and explodes in dexterous unison and deft counterpoint, resulting in a powerful wall of sound that just blows you away. Waves of multi-layered frequencies are meticulously arranged, carefully orchestrated to sound like one powerful unified voice, and with a rock-solid rhythm section of Andy Ezrin on piano, David FInck on bass, Will Kennedy and Jared Schonig on drums, the music never fails to swing.

His orchestrations allow several soloists an opportunity to launch into their own individualized improvisations and the results can be stirring, but it is the ensemble work that is most impressive to me. Big bands can be like an untamed beast, powerful and unwieldy, but Davis seems to have the acumen of a lion tamer. His arrangements harness the energy without ever dissipating the raw power.

With a name like Hip-Bone Big Band, you’d expect some of the best solos spots would be offered to the who’s who of trombonists playing for Davis and indeed they are. The featured artists include Conrad Herwig, Bill Reichenbach, Bob McChesney, Andy Martin, Marshall Gilkes, Nick Finzer, Jeff Nelson, Michael Dease and Davis himself.

Davis does leave a little space for the saxophones and trumpets to have their say. We get some engaging solos from Scott Wendholt on trumpet, tenor men Bob Malach and the alto master Dick Oatts. Andy Snitzer’s tenor feature on “Walk Like the Guy” is especially evocative.

The selections are mostly swingers that allow the band to inhale and exhale in synchronous and syncopated respiration. This band has the lungs of a trained Olympic athlete and it is exhilarating to hear.  You can tell these guys were enjoying themselves because they seem to convey a cocky attitude in their section work, a confident bluster that blares through your headset. Songs like “Butter Ball,” “Zaq Attack,” “Walk Like the Guy” “Giant” and the pulsing “San Jose” demonstrate just how in sync these guys can be under Davis’ direction.

Not that the band can’t summon its emotional side; just take a listen to the moodily played “Sentimental” or the sauntering “Fog City” where Davis offers a particularly emotionally charged solo.

“Trombone Institute of Technology” is a bare study in multi-voicing of instruments without the aid of a rhythm section and “CRB’s 76 Trombones” is a buoyant play on the old Music Man classic.

With this bone-centric band, Hip-Bone Big Band Davis has created a thunderous sound that anyone who enjoys the genre should find immensely appealing.

The musicians; Saxophonists: Dick Oats,ato;David Mann, alto; Bob Malach, tenor;Andy Snitzer,tenor; Charles Pillow, tenro; Roger Rosenberg, baritone;
Trumpet/Flugelhorns: Nick Marchione, Jim Hyner, Tony KAdleck, Scott Wendholt, Zaq DAvis. Trombones/  Bass trombones: Micahel Davis, Marshall Gilkes, Nick Finzer, Keith O'Quinn, Conrad Herwig, Bob McChesney, Andy Martin, Birch Johnson; Michael Dease, Amy Salo, Jeff Nelson; George Flynn, Bill Reichenbach.
Rythm Section: Andy Ezrin, piano: David FInck, bass; Will Kennedy, drums; Jared Schonig, drums.

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