Josephine Davies’ Satori

How Can We Wake?
(Whirlwind)

On How Can We Wake?, British saxophonist/composer Josephine Davies and her trio explore improvisation through the lens of philosophy. The result is an introspective display of the bandleader’s musical prowess and the ensemble’s unquestionable simpatico on a record of timely urgency.

Recorded live in London during early 2020, the spiritual heft of How We Can Wake? was of special design by Davies, who set up her bandmates for the sessions with loose rhythmic and melodic guidelines, and two key pieces of inspiration: the meaning inherent in the trio’s name, “Satori” (a Buddhist idea which indicates a moment of inner spaciousness away from noisy thought), and the teachings of Patañjali, a revered ancient Indian sage.

From the outset, a patient embodiment of mood is palpable. “Ananda: Bliss” finds Davies floating a bittersweet melody over a soft expanse created by James Maddren’s feathery percussion and Dave Whitford’s creative beat-keeping. Later, “Mudita: Joy” is defined by effervescent staccato in Davies’ saxophone and Maddren’s playful, intentional responses.

Darker moods also are portrayed with this emotional nuance: “Klesha: Affliction” is shaped by an angular melody from Davies, while Whitford and Maddren speed toward madness. Mirroring human emotional experience, the album’s vibe changes without pause or notice, as with the transition between the drum-centric “Sutra 1” and the anxious “Duhkha: Pervasive Dissatisfaction.”

Throughout, the album asks, how can you wake to yourself? It’s a fearful question in 2020, but here Davies provides a mindful and enrapturing answer.