In smooth jazz, many artists are often relegated into obscurity for reasons other than artistic merit. When speaking with program directors at various radio stations, many excuses or feigned reasons are offered in defense of the practice; one of which is the music is to R&B-ish or doesn’t fit format of smooth jazz. In other words, the music is not commercial. With that being said, it stands to reason why so many quality musicians fall through a wasteland of cracks filled with a lack of wide spread exposure. One such group that has the voracity and tenacity to be considered a household name as well as a commercial success is the Gary Davis Band. Collectively, this savvy group of artists have epitomized contemporary jazz; in the process, they have risen above the so-called smooth jazz phenomenon that has taken radio by storm. The group’s latest release entitled Playing My Dues is a CD that is well worth a listen and could be considered one of 2005’s finest releases. From the very onset of this CD, saxophonist Gary Davis and his band have established a system of grooves that have been augmented by great sounding R&B stylized jazz, with a base etched in traditional improvisational impulses and harmonic influences.
Playing My Dues has the Gary Davis signature written all over the jazzscape as producer, songwriter and musician. With a voice uniquely qualified to be unique, any associations or imitations to other artists can be easily dismissed. Through nine fun-filled tracks of exhilarating contemporary jazz, Gary and his band have run the gamut of musical excellence with a variety of original compositions and familiar covers. Although many of the tracks on Playing My Dues seem simplistic in approach, the overall essence of the CD is filled with some highly evolved musical craftsmanship and a much-heralded close attention to detail. What is just as fascinating is the effective use of each member of the band; in addition, the vocal arrangements are ecstatically brilliant. One track in particular entitled "One Night In Brazil" has a great presence attached to it with the use of vocalist Regina Davis. Given the opportunity to be heard over the airways, the tune would easily be in the Top 10 as a chart highlight.
Another unique offering is the track entitled "On Grover Side of Town" has a firmness that is truly reminiscent of the late Grover Washington, Jr., while displaying some superb interplay between Gary Davis and guitarist Darryl Thomas. Although these two tracks are highlighted, the overall impact of Playing My Dues is tantalizing. When examining other unique aspects of Gary Davis’ CD, one has only to look at all of the tools attached to Playing My Dues. Gary performs brilliantly as a saxophonist, percussionist and gap filler. Other personnel add additional credence with strategic placement of specialized instrumentation, especially the use of the Hammond organ on the ever-popular Aretha Franklin classic "Rock Steady" and on "Forever Mine," made famous by The O’Jays.
In the whole scheme of musical attachments, the Gary Davis Band is sure to be a group that will develop a huge fan base. Although Gary has only been on the scene a relatively short period of time, his musical instincts and intuition are remarkable. I could go on and on about this versatile group of artists attached to Playing My Dues but the truth is in the experience, one that all connoisseurs of quality contemporary jazz should hear. In the end, this is definitely a CD that all will surely love to hear.