The Players: Jake Ezra: guitar, Patrick Carmichael: drums, Jon Price: Bass.
(with special guests – Brian Charette: organ, and Matt Hong: sax.)
Material: Van Davis is a funk, rock, groove trio, who play instrumentals with names like, "Cookies," " Pickled Hearing," and "Monkey Chips." Maybe the names of the tunes are just a marker of their intentions as to the direction each piece needs to take, in the same way that the name of the band suggests a cross between Van Halen and Miles Davis... or so they say. But it is the improvisation within that intended structure which supplies the unique nature of their sound, allowing each piece to change considerably from one performance to the next, and defining it more precisely as jazz.
Musicianship: Clearly these three guys have chops up the wazoo, ranging from bluesy techniques to those inspired by the fusion players of the '70s. Think Larry Carlton meets Larry Coryell, for guitarist Jake Ezra, with maybe some Al Dimeola (who he actually looks a bit like) thrown in. Jon Price's Bass playing has perhaps as much ability as a Jaco, or a Stanley Clarke, but he makes it his own and doesn't look back for comparison. Patrick Carmichael's drumming tips a nod to the same genre; Tony Williams... or Lenny White, but lighter... not so thrilling, maybe, but not so bombastic either, and therefore maybe more subtle and tasteful as a result.
Performance: You almost don't hear the first tinkling sounds above the general hubbub of the room. Were this the Blue Note, or the Newport Jazz Festival, the audience would have arrived prepared to listen carefully for whatever musical fortuity might ensue. But in this setting, where rock bands dominate, it takes a while for the cunning funkiness of the opener, "Easter Beagle," to seep compellingly into the knees and toes and clinking glasses of the seemingly inattentive clientele. But as the "cool jazz" nature of the first piece morphs into the next cut, and the next... the harder rocking energy and tidy arrangements of the music starts picking up passengers until, soon, everyone is paying attention... close attention. How could they not – these guys are good! So are their guests – Messrs. Charette and Hong; excellent musicians in their own right.
All goes well until the penultimate song of the set. If you were wondering why mikes were set up for an instrumental band... well now you're going to find out. Is someone going to sing? Has Mr. Ezra been hiding a voice that is as good as his perpetually smiling, bobbing and weaving, happiness inducing guitar?
Unfortunately, no! Suddenly, and for no discernible reason, out pops a mediocre rock'n'roll song called "Domino," which probably should be dropped from the set, as it brings nothing to their performance, and quite frankly might put off those who would otherwise be great fans of their material. But at least they return to form for the final number, "Augusta's Ankle," which restores faith in the natural order of things by highlighting the best of what these three young musicians (and their friends) have to offer in a blistering blaze of musical redemption. Thank you gentlemen, and good night.
Summary: Van Davis has the makings of a classic jazz-funk-fusion band, as good or better than many that have come before. If only they can remember what they are good at, and the tradition they were born of. Their improvisational skills are second to none, as exemplified on their new CD, "Have You Seen This Band." But as good as it is, they are better live – go see this band!
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