With the release on May 14, 2013 of her recording debut The Art Of The Melody (Nicholas Records), Australian alto saxophonist Angela Davis adds a fresh new voice to the legacy of illustrious improvising artists on her instrument who influenced and inspired her like Art Pepper, Paul Desmond and Lee Konitz. Her clear phrasing and tone, as well as the title of her self-produced and self-released album, succinctly convey what drives her as an instrumentalist and composer. “I’ve had the privilege of studying privately with Lee since 2012 and he always tells me ‘…respect the melody and always hear where it is no matter where you are in your solo,’” Davis explains. “My sound is definitely influenced by the ‘Cool School’ but that’s how it naturally is and I wouldn't be able to change it if I tried.”
Davis is an intuitive melodicist who eloquently displays her artistry as an instrumentalist and improviser in quartet and duo performances of an eclectic suite of music including three of her own compositions and highly original interpretations of songs by Boz Scaggs (“We’re All Alone”), Tom Waits (“Martha”), Charlie Chaplin (“Smile”), the standard “Crazy She Calls Me” and the traditional Scottish ballad “Annie Laurie.” As she states in her liner notes, “…there is nothing like a great melody and the nine songs on this CD all contain beautiful, emotive melodies I enjoy playing and I hope that they resonate with you as a listener.” Davis is joined on the recording by pianist Chris Ziemba and fellow Australians Linda Oh on bass and Rajiv Jayaweera on drums.
The music on The Art Of The Melody draws on a variety of sources with two of Davis’s compositions inspired by a sense of place. “’The Road to Montgomery’ is a very melancholy track about missing my home and family that I wrote for my Masters recital. The chromatic wandering of the piano part is influenced by the music of Philip Glass and is meant to be very minimalist,” she explains. “’41 St Nick’ is about what it’s like living in Harlem amidst the hustle and bustle of the neighborhood around 125th Street.” Written over the changes to Victor Young’s “A Weaver Of Dreams,” “41 St. Nick” is one of two contrafacts Davis included on the album, the other being “Conscientia” which she penned over the changes to Arthur Schwartz’s immortal “Alone Together.”
The Boz Scaggs tune covered here is a favorite of Davis’s father that the saxophonist often heard, along with the music of Tom Waits, at home growing up. “Both songs are great vehicles for improvisation and ensemble interaction,” Davis says, adding that they are part of the repertoire she currently performs playing in clubs around New York City in duo, trio and quartet settings. On The Art Of The Melody Davis performs in a trio context in a 90-second solo she takes backed by Oh and Jayaweera a half-minute into the swinging opening track “St. Nick.” The album also features the saxophonist in two duets: on the aforementioned Scaggs ballad “We’re All Alone” with pianist Ziemba and on “Smile” with bassist Oh which concludes the CD. Davis and Oh give each other ample room to breathe on an airy pas-de-deux the saxophonist notes was inspired by a version of “Every Time We Say Goodbye” Konitz recorded on his duo outing I Concentrate On You with bassist Red Mitchell. On “We’re All Alone” Davis and Ziemba display a sublime level of empathetic interplay that delicately balances passion and restraint.