Angela Davis Quartet, Melbourne Women’s International Jazz festival, Wednesday 9 December, 8.30pm at Bennetts Lane
Line-up: Angela Davis alto sax, Tony Gould piano, Sam Anning bass, Sam Bates drums
I’m showing my age, but the name Angela Davis brings to my mind the 1960s political activist in the US rather than a young saxophonist. But it’s time for me to move on.
In music, as in food, I am a lover of contrasts. I like black pepper on vanilla ice cream, fresh fig with a dash of Three Crabs fish sauce (the brand is important). And I can be moved by the beauty of a simple phrase or melody and yet also totally captivated by the most fiery, out there antics in the music you’d often hear at Melbourne’s Make It Up Club.
It’s the zone in between that at times does not grab me, I think because of my desire for tension, complexity, abrasion or propulsion in music on one hand, or exquisite simplicity and beauty on the other.
Some will share or understand this view, others won’t. It is only relevant because it influences my reaction — much as I may wish otherwise.
How is this palaver relevant to this outing by saxophonist Angela Davis, who has recently returned to Australia after having lived in New York City for the past eight years?
Well, John McBeath in one of the Murdoch newspapers I refuse to buy said Davis “has a beautifully elegant, honeyed alto tone, reminiscent of Paul Desmond” and Step Tempest has referred to her “sweet tone” and said “for Ms Davis, the ‘art’ is found in the ‘melody’”.
I’d agree. In this outing with Sam Anning (also recently returned from years in New York), maestro Tony Gould and Sam Bates on drums, Davis seemed to offer the epitomy of cool saxophone, with a pure, clean tone. The gravelly abrasiveness and guttural antics of some saxophonists was not there.
Her purity of tone was ideally suited to the pieces chosen, including Fujiyama and the sprightly Toki’s Theme from Dave Brubeck’s Jazz Impressions of Japan, gentle Joanna’s Waltz (Frank Wunsch), a warm rendition of Annie Laurie, the moving original Hymn For the Lonely and Johnny Mandel’s Emily.
Two duets with Gould — Martha (Tom Waits) and variations on Abide With Me — were especially beautiful.
I particularly warmed to the quartet’s energy and swing on Davis’s engaging compositions 41 St Nick and A Thousand Feet from Bergen Street. I also loved the look on Sam Anning’s face when Angela Davis told him she had been able to look into his kitchen from her apartment across from his in Harlem.
During her time in the US, Angela received a Masters of Music from the University of the Arts and studied with many saxophone greats including Dick Oatts, Lee Konitz and Steve Wilson.
Davis has two albums — The Art of Melody (2013) and Lady Luck (2015). If she is back in Melbourne for a while, jazz fans can look forward to some new compositions, and perhaps even new insights into what went on in Anning’s kitchen.
Here’s a few images: