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Jazz Pick of the Week

by Brant Reiter
Reprinted with permission from LA Weekly.

'God bless Henry. He lived like a rat.' So starts the 13th of John Berryman's 77 Dream Songs, the tome for which the late poet justifiably won 1965's Pulitzer Prize. Those 77 sonnet-like poems, along with 300-some more that Berryman later published, constitutes a seminal, uniquely American documents of high gallows humor and harrowing despair--a document of which I am extraordinarily fond. ... But Davis, who's director of Composition and Jazz Studies at Cal State Bakersfield, has a real ear for the poet's shaggy rhythms and an artful, dramatic touch; his inventive setting, employing a solo piano, jazz trio and chamber ensemble with operatic tenor, are quite wonderful and exceedingly well-suited to Berryman's text. Blusey, playful and malevolent, with strong overtones of Bartok and Berg, the music is jarring, creepy and slyly seductive. And the disc, which I found compulsively listenable, is both appropriately unsettling and a hell of a lot of fun. With bassist James Dethlefson, drummer Kyle Burnham, and tenor John Gerhold.

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