By Ed Enright | Published August 2016
The “slip horn” might be the focus of trombonist Michael Davis’ 11th album as a leader, but Hip-Bone Big Band is about much more—namely, a full-sized modern big band staffed with elite New York players executing highly original material. There just happens to be numerous virtuosi rotating in and out of the ’bone section, including Michael Dease, Marshall Gilkes, Conrad Herwig, Andy Martin, Bob McChesney, Bill Reichenbach and Davis himself. Other horn-playing ringers include Vanguard Jazz Orchestra veterans Dick Oatts (lead alto), Nick Marchione (lead trumpet) and Scott Wendholt (jazz trumpet), as well as tenor ace Andy Snitzer and bari sax strongman Roger Rosenberg. Yellowjackets drummer Will Kennedy handles most of the drum responsibilities, establishing a wide variety of appropriate feels, from traditional big band swinging to driving rock beats to thick funk grooves. Hip-Bone Big Band is a fine showcase for Davis’ skills as a composer and arranger and his knack for highlighting the strengths of today’s top big band players. Sax solis rip with burning accuracy; trumpet section passages kill with chops and precision; smart interludes and clever counterpoint keep things balanced and brainy throughout. Some of Davis’ tunes date back to the late 1990s, while others were written in the days leading up to the March 2016 recording sessions. The leader pulls out all the stops on “CRB’s 76 Trombones,” a swinging take on Meredith Wilson’s 1957 signature song from The Music Man featuring inspired ’bone solos by Davis, Gilkes, Nick Finzer and Jeff Nelson. Hip-Bone Big Band benefits from Davis’ formidable big band pedigree, which includes stints in the bands of Buddy Rich, Frank Sinatra, Woody Herman, Louie Bellson and Bob Mintzer. The album also reflects Davis’ deep appreciation for the mentorship he received along the way. A highly committed jazz educator and active clinician, Davis plans to offer Hip-Bone Big Band (in physical or digital format) free to students at all the colleges and schools where he will appear as guest artist in the future.