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MIKE DAVIS & The New Wonders' "Steppin' Out "

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    Posted: 22 May 2024 at 5:07am




Cornetist/Arranger Mike Davis Creates New Settings of Classic Jazz Songs

Released April 5, 2024 on Turtle Bay Records

THE NEW WONDERS - Steppin Out cover  

One of the unique attributes of jazz is its coexistence of styles. In other art forms, aspiring artists must express themselves in the modern language developed by the current establishment. If a young artist wants his work to reflect an older style, their work is branded as "Neo-something" but he is still expected to reflect the trends of the current day. Jazz doesn't follow those rules. Since the old genres never fully fell out of favor, there are plenty of musicians—young and old—who enjoy playing in older styles, and many fans who will listen with equal enthusiasm. For the past decade, cornetist and arranger MIKE DAVIS has created his own career path based on his passion for Bix Beiderbecke, Red Nichols and the New York Jazz groups of the 1920s.


Davis' groups have used the band name "The New Wonders" for years, but in 2021, Davis hand-picked a new group for a week-long nightclub gig in Switzerland. The COVID-19 pandemic left the musicians wondering whether the job would actually happen, but after a postponement, Davis and The New Wonders traveled to Europe for the engagement. It went so well that Turtle Bay Records president Scott Asen offered Davis the opportunity to record the new group. For their first eponymous release, the band recorded the best arrangements from the band's working repertoire. In contrast, the group's new album, STEPPIN' OUT, is completely composed of new Davis arrangements, and as the leader proudly notes, none of the charts are based on existing recordings.


One track which might appear to be a cover version is “Cornet Chop Suey.” An early hit record for Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five, the piece became well-known to young jazz trumpeters in the 1920s, certainly including Beiderbecke and Red Nichols. Neither recorded a version of this song so we can't be entirely sure how either would have played it. But on the new album, Davis gives us his best guess at this fascinating hybrid of sound and style. The notes remain the same, but Davis uses his golden tone and detached style to emulate Nichols’ sound. Further, he combines his own imagination with the sounds New York studio groups left behind to create an interpretation that pays tribute to both Nichols and Armstrong.


With the unique instrumentation of his band, Davis revisits a long-forgotten tradition prominent in Beiderbecke's recordings. Instead of using a tuba or string bass to anchor the rhythm section, the New Wonders use a saxophone as the bass instrument. On the present recording, JAY RATTMAN plays the agile bass lines, drawing from the pioneering work of the long-forgotten Adrian Rollini. A fixture in the 1920s New York recording studios, Rollini was a multi-instrumentalist, as well as experimenting with unique instruments like the goofus and the hot fountain pen. His acute, propulsive lines on bass sax were featured on dozens of recordings by Beiderbecke, Joe Venuti, Bing Crosby and many others. Rattman's lines carry the same agility and swing as Rollini's classic recordings, but also move in directions that Rollini never imagined. 

The opening track, “Do Do Do,” showcases the band's outstanding ensemble work, bright open sound, and pervasive swing. After the vocal chorus, Davis trades improvised phrases with alto saxophonist RICKY ALEXANDER, displaying their great musical chemistry. Davis prefers to record with the entire band playing together in the same room, with a minimum of individual microphones. The exquisite instrumental balance and the free interplay of the musicians make tracks like “Everybody Loves My Baby” into fresh musical experiences. Those experiences extend into rarely heard songs like “Love Will Find a Way” and the punningly-titled “Helen Gone.”


“Half-Seas Over” is the album's sole original composition. Created by the band's pianist, ANDY SCHUMM, the intriguing arrangement has a string of unusual episodes featuring subtle variations in instrumentation and unique harmonic patterns. Along the way, it also becomes a fine showpiece for Davis, Schumm, and trombonist JOSH HOLCOMB. “My Fate is in Your Hands” features outstanding vocals and cornet by the leader, with a fine interlude by Schumm over the understated drums of COLIN HANCOCK. Davis' elegantly swinging arrangement of “Melancholy Baby” brings new life to the old warhorse, with its refined two-step pulse, an inventive use of the original verse, and a splendid closing variation. The solos are particularly well-constructed with all three hornmen shining in their respective choruses, followed with a brief melodic turn by banjoist JARED ENGEL.


Davis and Alexander join voices on “My Gal Sal,” followed by brief solos by everyone. “Cornet Chop Suey” follows, and in addition to the featured cornet, notice how Davis has added some timpani-like effects (reflecting drummer Vic Berton). There is also an appearance of the cornet trio of Davis, Schumm, and Hancock. The previously mentioned “Helen Gone” features a melody line reminiscent of Edith Piaf's "Mon Legionnaire." A smart and snappy arrangement of “My Blue Heaven” brings this recital to a close.


On STEPPIN' OUT, Mike Davis and his talented sidemen prove that the styles created a century ago by a group of young enthusiastic musicians are still valid in our time. For those of us who love and treasure this genre, this album is a gentle reminder that the key to our future lies in the past.


About Mike Davis

Davis’s parents were in the Seattle Symphony, and he started studying the trumpet at the age of 9. When he first heard old 78 rpm records, something clicked. He felt an ineluctable pull to play traditional jazz. Davis listened to and absorbed a lot of old records, studying the different, personal styles that each player brought to the recording. The music became part of his identity, and he even began dressing in the style of the period, right down to the bespoke suits and pencil moustache. Today, Davis is a bandleader and an in-demand sideman. He has been a member of Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band for 10 years and has worked with stalwarts like Emily Asher’s Garden Party, Glenn Crytzer, Baby Soda, Dan Levinson, and many other traditional jazz and swing bands.


# # #


STEPPIN’ OUT will be released on April 5, 2024, on Turtle Bay Records and will be available at Turtlebayrecords.com and on all platforms.






YouTube: @turtlebayrecords9686

IG: @turtlebayrecords 

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Edited by snobb - 22 May 2024 at 5:14am
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