It took Northeast Ohio jazz drummer N. Glenn Davis more than 30 years to release his first record as a bandleader. It took him only two years to follow it up. When A Different View came out in 2007, it greased the wheels of his creativity and resulted in Come Right In, which he'll formally introduce at Nighttown Thursday.
Davis moved to Boston in the '70s to attend Berklee College of Music, where he got his degree in 1979. After playing around Boston for 11 years, he moved to New York for a while before returning to Cleveland in the late '80s. Since then, he's taught music in the Cleveland Public Schools while leading a couple of his own ensembles and playing with other bands like the Dave Sterner Quinter and the Joe Hunter Trio.
Come Right In is more ambitious than A Different View, featuring a quintet on most of the tunes: Davis, pianist Mark Soskin, bassist Dean Johnson, sax player Sterner and trumpeter Jack Schantz. Jazz sax legend Phil Woods guests on three tracks. The CD includes eight Davis compositions, plus his take on Bill Evans' "Time Remembered" and Tadd Dameron's "If You Could See Me Now." (He also pays tribute to the influential Cleveland-born composer/arranger on "Just a Tadd," which works in snippets of Dameron's tunes).
"I focused a lot more on my writing," says Davis. "[Releasing the first CD] gave me more inspiration. I definitely wanted to make a quintet record with trumpet and sax on the front line, something that sounded like jazz — a little more bebop, hard bop. But there's also some nice Latin tunes, some blues — it's well-rounded. It's a step up as far as the writing goes."
The result is an engaging CD that balances instrumental virtuosity with accessibility. The exuberant title track showcases the bright horns, while sultry Latin filigrees decorate "Fumba Rumba." "Warm Smile" is pensive yet intricate, built on a rich bed of piano. The Evans piece, done with only a trio, was picked by Soskin and showcases his elegant, confident phrasing.
Davis says that while writing, he had the players in mind. Clevelander Sterner had contributed to the first CD. And Schantz, former artistic director of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, is, says Davis, "a great Cleveland icon and a great soloist."
"I knew for sure I wanted those two guys," he says. "I wanted to get a couple of New York guys. Dean Johnson was the bridge. We went to Berklee together and played jobs around Boston a lot. We started playing in the studio and it was effortless. Mark Soskin I knew from his work with Sonny Rollins. I met him at Nighttown a couple of years ago and talked to him, and when I started the second CD, I called him up, and he came and played. He's a great piano player and great personality, easy to work with.
Davis had already booked the session at Red Rock Recording in the Pennsylvania Poconos when Jazzed Media head Graham Carter suggested giving the album a boost with guest soloist Phil Woods, who has numerous releases on the label. He was not only willing but also lives only 15 minutes from the studio, making it an easy trip for the 77-year-old musician. He joined the other players for the one-day session that Davis says "was a great day, great vibe. The charts were well prepared and the guys are all great players. They came in and did two takes on every song. 'If You Could See Me Now' is one take. Once you play and put your heart into it, you're not going to want to do three, four, five takes. We did the whole record in six to seven hours. It's got a great live feel to it."
For the Nighttown show this week, Davis will be joined by Sterner and Soskin, with local bassist Peter Dominguez holding down the bottom end. Schantz is in Brazil, says Davis, but he's snagged hot up-and-coming young trumpeter (and Cleveland native) Dominick Farinacci — freshly back from Japan — to cover for him. "So I have two headliners with me — Dominick and Mark Soskin."