WJAMC Presents Steve Davis and Josh Bruneau at WJMAC - The Majestic on Forest
Sunday, December 7th, 2014
On the stage at WJMAC is Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers alum, trombonist Steve Davis. Beside him, a former student from the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz, Josh Bruneau, who just put out a new CD, "Bright Idea" on the amazing Cellar Live label. Tony Foster is on piano, Adam Thomas is on bass and Julian McDonough is on the drums. It's a good crowd here. More and more people each time. The word is getting out: you want to hear great Jazz in Bellingham? Go see a WJMAC show. Really, any of them. But this one, today, this one is going to be a great one. It is in the air.
The band starts into the first number. We all have an expectation that it will take a song or two for them to get their footing. You sense the musicians giving each other sonic space they each need - each courteously defining his territory. The rhythm section of Adam and Julian is purring like well-oiled motor. Tony sparkling across the ivories. Steve steps out in front first, the trombone singing with its muted eloquence. And they are all there of a sudden: together and as tight as can be. Steve's trombone works through such lyrical melodic lines, cutting a groove right through the center of the audience.
Then Josh steps in. It's like a sudden blast of lightning, which hangs over the audience for a moment until it is transformed into rippling ribbonlike riffs of brassified melody. It's a revelatory contrast from Steve. Each of them complimenting and not taking away from either in comparison. Josh's playing is electric, vibrant, pulsing with the energy of youth. Even how he stands on stage, trumpet help up, leaning back, arms tightly coiled as the music explodes out of him. Steve, on the other hand, elegant, balancing lyricism and volume, knowing the interior architecture of the music that only time can illuminate. Josh steps back from his solo and you can almost feel the crowd un-grip their chairs from the roller coaster beauty of that sound.
Tony's piano is perfectly subdued, as if it is making quiet commentary on the slides, charges and bright riffs that just preceded it. And there is always that solid rolling rumble of percussion from Adam and Julian that anchors it all. The first song was not a tune-up for the musicians, it was a tune-up for the crowd.
Steve lets us know the next tune will be by the incomparable trombonist, J. J. Johnson - who he calls "our Charlie Parker". They launch into "Kenya", Josh's trumpet just soaring out over the crowd, bright platinum spools unwinding with these trill-like riffs of astonishing speed. Man, is that a trumpet making that sound? Steve follows and somehow takes the groove even deeper. And we all just sit there with the simple joy of listening to a trombone sing like we have never heard it. Tony's plays as gracefully as ever, Steve and Josh to one of the stage adding soft musical commentary. Adam performs a bass solo that has that seems to let time seep in between the notes and dissolve the tune. Then at the most precarious moment, he cuts right back to the heart of the melody. Julian's percussion, as always, adds just that extra bit of temporal complexity while at the same time complimenting and giving room for the others to stretch out. As Steve says after the song, "Jazz music is one of the purest forms of Democracy."
Towards the end, Adam and Julian performed a mind-blowing percussive interplay, Adam slapping parts of his stand-up bass and Julian hitting complex rim skin cymbal combinations. It was such a virtuoso display of talent. I felt like I could listen to an entire show of just that - and how often do you hear that about a bass and drum solo section?
It was absolutely beautiful to experience such world-class jazz on a Sunday afternoon in Bellingham. At the end there was a rousing standing ovation and the musicians indulged us in an sweet encore of White Christmas. Tony Foster's piano notes making some of the sweetest sounds I've ever heard, happily reminding me of Earl Garner. And for the first time, I thought: right here and right at this moment, Christmas begins for me.
This review originally appeared in What's Up!