Good jazz players seem to turn the corner in their 30s--when they distill the lessons of their youth and start channeling their early esprit into meaningful music--and alto saxist Jesse Davis is right on schedule. The several albums he made in his 20s revealed him to be the most adept Charlie Parker imitator of his generation--a dubious distinction, but one Davis mitigated with his fulsome tone and obvious commitment to the bebop idiom. On his next couple discs he began aiming higher, and on his sixth and latest, First Insight (Concord), he hints at possibilities not yet apparent when he first appeared on the scene in 1989. Technically he still glides with the wizardly composure that made Parker's most remarkable flights sound like a stroll in the park; but Davis now saves the fireworks for where they'll have the greatest impact instead of setting them off in an empty display. His sound still shines with Lichtenstein colors, but now it also has texture, weight, and purpose. You'd hardly guess it from his early recordings, but Davis is a man with something to say, and he says it in a tough, sometimes stark harmonic language that has descended from McCoy Tyner through Woody Shaw to the more inventive of the neoclassicist kids playing today. Make no mistake--Davis remains one of them, an artist more interested in reinvestigating the past than seeking out the future. But in trimming the fat from his style and stepping out from behind Parker's model, he's made a first-rate declaration of burgeoning independence. Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. Davis also plays a free in-store Saturday at 1 PM at Jazz Record Mart, 444 N. Wabash; 312-222-1467. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Herman Leonard.