Artist: Simeon Davis
Album: Of Narratives & Nocturnes
Label: Next Level
JAN Review by Scott Yanow
Simeon Davis grew up and lived in Cape Town, South Africa for 17 years. He studied violin when he was eight, switching his focus to alto-sax two years later, and winning awards for his playing in school. In 2016 Mr. Davis moved to Texas to study at the University of North Texas, earning a degree in 2020 and a Masters of Music in 2022. He leads both the Simeon Davis Group and iKhaya Lam: A South African Jazz Collective, and made his recording debut as a leader with Bah Humbug: An Absolutely Unnecessary Christmas Album.
For his double-CD Of Narratives & Nocturnes, Simeon Davis sees his eight originals as being a series of tales that follow either a plot or a specific emotion. While he blends aspects of classical, folk, soul and South African roots into his arrangements, this is very much a jazz project with a variety of colorful individual statements being logical extensions of Mr. Davis’ writing. Each piece evolves as it develops, taking listeners on an unpredictable musical adventure. Mr. Davis is joined by a strong and assertive rhythm section, two other horn players, a violinist, and a pair of singers who take occasional wordless vocals, generally as part of the ensemble.
The set begins with the lightly funky “The Diver” which has a happy vibe and fine spots for keyboardist Holly Holt and electric bassist Jake Chaffee. “Seven Come Wednesday” has the sound of a big band during the opening ensembles, some highly expressive wordless singing by Tyler Thomas, and a complex South African jazz groove that gives the piece a party atmosphere. A contrasting mood is expressed on “Requiem For Charles,” an emotional blues ballad that hints a bit at Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.” Violinist Jess Meadoer is in the lead at the start of the piece before a quiet guitar solo and an explorative statement by Mr. Davis on alto that is topped off by his mournful cadenza.
On “Eden,” Simeon Davis sought to represent the voice of God, Adam, Eve and the Serpent through several of the instruments. Whether he succeeds at that is open to question, but this is certainly an exhilarating funk piece with catchy riffing, a solid guitar solo, heated trumpet, assertive bass playing, and dense ensembles. “A Quiet Night In Pandemonium” is an episodic jazz waltz that will definitely keep listeners guessing for it develops quite unpredictably but logically, as if it were a movie soundtrack or a suite.
“Pleiades” utilizes a clavé rhythm and begins with strong hints of Spain before developing its own groove. Violinist Meadoer and the leader on soprano are the solo stars but it is the extensive arrangement with its constantly changing ensembles that really takes honors. “The Panther” has a sly theme, some conversational ensembles that recall Chick Corea a bit, concise solos, and a mysterious air about it as if one is not sure which direction the panther will be going next. The concluding number, “Ingoma Yoxolo (Peace Song),” begins quietly with Holly Holt’s piano, has a theme that makes one think of the South African countryside, and builds steadily during its 12 minutes which includes heated playing from Aramis Fernandez on congas that really pushes the horns through some raging ensembles. Both the song and the recording end with a quiet and triumphant melody.
All in all this is an impressive effort from Simeon Davis, both for his writing and his playing. With luck and perseverance, he will certainly have a great future in creative music.
1. The Diver – 8:27
2. Seven Come Wednesday – 10:39
3. Requiem For Charles – 9:10
4. Eden –11:12
5. A Quiet Night In Pandemonium –7:58
6. Pleiades – 9:10
7. The Panther – 12:26
8. Ingoma Yoxolo (Peace Song) – 12:42
Simeon Davis, alto saxophone, flute
Jonathan Shier, trumpet, flugelhorn
Maximo Santana, trombone
Mario Wellmann, Alex Hand, guitar
Jess Meadoer, violin
Holly Holt, keyboards
Jake Chaffee, electric bass
Josh Parker, drums
Aramis Fernandez, congas
Tyler Thomas, Rachel Azbell, vocals