Trumpeter James Davis, who hails originally from Texas, is currently on the faculty at Triton College in River Grove, IL, where he directs the Jazz Band. His past performance experience includes work with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Chuchito Valdes and Rob Parton’s Jazz Tech Big Band. He moved to the Chicago area after finishing a Masters Degree in Trumpet Performance from the University of North Texas; his Bachelor’s degree was earned at the University of Texas at Arlington. His trumpet playing abilities have been recognized as he placed as a finalist in both the International Trumpet Guild Jazz Improvisation Competition and the Carmine Caruso International Jazz Trumpet Solo Competition. Angles Of Refraction is his second release as a leader.
Recorded in March of 2007, this recording of mostly mid-tempo, darkly moodish pieces is rather captivating. What makes this recording stand out are the inventive arrangements and exclusive use of Fender Rhodes as the keyboard instrument. Most of the compositions, all are by Davis, are like "Fair Enough." Within the traditional jazz quintet line-up Davis writes lines for the two horn players, trumpet or flugelhorn and alto sax, that swirl and spin around each other. They don’t dart so much as intertwine around each other. The use of the electric keyboard and the chordal voicings Sean McCluskey uses emphasize this compositional feature. Even on the few uptempo numbers, such as "As It Were," the same compositional/arranging style is used to great effect.
As far as soloistic abilities are concerned, Davis prefers to use a variety of different diminished scale fragments in constructing his lines. Placing them within mostly narrow tessituras, he is still able to craft inventive lines. There is a sameness to his solos, from tune to tune, that becomes apparent as the disc progresses but this can be excused as Davis is still a young and developing soloist.
Saxophonist Carolina Davis, a freelance musician in the Chicago area and currently in graduate school at Northwestern University, plays with a relaxing coolness that is works especially well when pitted with James. Her improvised duet-solo on "Reciprocal" is her best of the CD. These two are obviously of the same intellectual point of view when it comes to jazz, and listening to them trade like-minded lines is sweetly sublime.
Keyboardist Sean McCluskey, bassist Jeff Greene and drummer Jon Deitemyer are perfect in their support of the two horn players. Their ability to allow James all the open space he needs as he, in part, works with the concept of rest on tunes like "On The Fly" and "None Of The Above," is excellent. Deitemyer is particularly sensitive throughout the disc in pushing Caroline forward during her solos. He may be someone to watch in the future.
All in all this is a really good early recording by still young and developing musicians.