"The New York Times" spotlights Arkestra member Charles Davis

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#1 Mon, 2006-10-16 02:31
Margaret Grimes
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"The New York Times" spotlights Arkestra member Charles Davis



October 16, 2006

Music Review | Charles Davis

Keeping It Modern in a Hallowed House of Jazz

By Ben Ratliff

Minton's Playhouse, one of the holiest jazz landmarks in New York, reopened in May for the first time since 1974, but the music became noteworthy only a few weeks ago, when the club started booking better-known players for Fridays and Saturdays. The saxophonist Charles Davis was there over the weekend, playing in a way that few musicians do anymore; he represents something as genuine and worth celebrating as the club itself.

Minton's is on West 118th Street in Harlem. The stage is at the rear wall, under a restored W.P.A.-style mural painted for the club in 1946 by Charles Graham: it portrays four musicians, black and white, jamming in a small bedroom, next to a curvy woman sacked out on a bed in a red dress, stockings and heels. The club used to be the dining room of the Cecil Hotel next door and began featuring music in 1940; it was at Minton's that Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Clarke, Charlie Parker, Charlie Christian and others started to formulate the fast, harmonically complex music called bebop.

Mr. Davis came along nearly a full generation after those first bebop jam sessions: his heyday was the late 1950's and early 60's in Chicago and New York, when he worked with Dinah Washington, Sun Ra and Kenny Dorham. A little younger than John Coltrane, Mr. Davis shares with some of his own contemporaries, like George Coleman, a fascination with sophisticated scale patterns; in Friday's late set, with a quartet made up of the pianist Tardo Hammer, the bassist Lee Hudson and the drummer Jimmy Wormworth, he ran alternating half- and whole-step patterns up and down through his improvisations on tunes like Benny Golson's "Whisper Not" and Cole Porter's "Love for Sale."

But that late-50's technique was only part of the show. Mr. Davis's pedigree goes back further, to tenor players like Ben Webster, who used a broad, generous sound on ballads; Mr. Davis made all those scale patterns sound rich and rolling. And he went a little more modern, too. In a piece of his own called "J. C." - for reasons that immediately became apparent - he started with a free-jazz introduction, about three minutes long, with the band creating different layers of melody and rhythm. Then he started the theme, swinging between two modes reminiscent of John Coltrane's "Impressions." It was a comfortable, beautiful kind of modernism, and it felt homey at Minton's.

Minton's Playhouse is at 208 West 118th Street, between St. Nicholas Avenue and Adam Clayton Boulevard in Harlem, (212) 864-8346; uptownatmintons.com. The pianist Ronnie Mathews and his quartet play on Friday and Sunday.

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