Steve Davis

(Smoke Sessions)

Bluesthetic is one of those delightful albums that can fall through the cracks in terms of garnering wide attention. There’s nothing overly complicated in the song structures; there’s nothing pointing toward the horrors of the pandemic or the U.S. racial injustices; and there’s nothing pandering to the latest newfangled musical trends or the inscrutable mandates of lofty artistic grant. But damn if it doesn’t swing.

Oftentimes, feel-good albums are unsung saviors in stressful times. With his agile melodic phrasing, heartfelt tone and compositional guile, trombonist Steve Davis comes across like a congenial hero leading a team of other superheroes, each gifted with individualized musical strength and personalities. Yet they know how to parse through their respective resources to enliven the music with exactly what it needs.

Even though the post-bop setting, melodic swagger and infectious swing hint at Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, the lineup on Bluesthetic still intrigues. Instead of sharing the front line with other horn players, Davis recruits guitarist Peter Bernstein and vibraphonist Steve Nelson, which affords the music with a different, more lissome harmonic palette. The same front line, sans alto saxophonist Mike DiRubbo, appeared on Davis’ 1998 album Vibe Up! But on Bluesthetic, the front line is propelled by the superb rhythm team of bassist Christian McBride and drummer Willie Jones III, while Geoffrey Keezer fuses the two forces with grace and ingenuity.