NEW SONGS FOR OLD SOULS / DAVIDIAN: Leaving Montserrat. Ready or Not. When First We Met. Before I Forget. If I Didn’t Need You. Sometime, Somehow. McMAHON: Sol. Won’t You Sing This Song for Me? OUSLEY: A Minor Waltz. A Sea of Voices / The Lost Melody: Joe Davidian, pno; Jamie Ousley, bs; Austin McMahon, dm / TIE Records 2000
“The Lost Melody” is not an album title; it is the name of a very good straightahead jazz trio that plays new songs that sound like old ones.
What do I mean by that? Even a cursory listen to this CD will tell you. The members of the trio, but mostly pianist Joe Davidian, all write pieces for them to play that sound very much like jazz and pop standards of a half-century ago. But this is not insipid music; on the contrary, they are as lively a group as you are likely to hear. It’s just that they forego the so-called “creativity” that many modern jazz groups follow, in which their tunes have no recognizable melodies. The Lost Melody’s tunes sound like a mixture of Horace Silver, Bud Powell, and any number of high quality songwriters who were active in the 1950s and early ‘60s.
A perfect example is the second track on this CD, Austin McMahon’s Sol, a nice, medium-tempo piece with a loping beat that resembles calypso. The tunes that The Lost Melody plays border on being earworms, the kind of songs that continue to go through your head long after you’ve heard them. Interestingly, for a song written by the group’s drummer, it is bassist Jamie Ousley who gets one of the most extended solos on this track, and a good one it is, too.
Davidian is a good pianist who controls himself and does not stray into outside jazz, yet his playing has sparkle and plenty of imagination. He is almost unique among modern pianists in that he can create interesting improvisations while keeping the melody going in one form or another, another hallmark of earlier jazz.
This may sound strange, but as I listened to this album I almost wished there were lyrics to some of these songs (e.g., Won’t You Sing This Song for Me?) and that they were being sung by Mel Tormé. There’s just something very Mel Tormé-ish about this entire enterprise, and the odd moment of displaced rhythm in Davidian’s solo here just seemed to me to cry out for Mel to jump in and scat along with the trio. I think he’d have loved this group.
The rhythm section of Ousley (who also solos on this track) and McMahon is tight without trying to be over-busy. This isn’t as easy to accomplish for players of this high a level as it seems. Yes, it’s easy for mediocre jazz musicians to not sound over-busy, because they don’t have great chops, but Ousley and McMahon are quite clearly masters of their instruments. They just know how to keep it under control in order to make the music work at its peak efficiency.
Three influences that seem to be missing from The Lost Melody’s style are those of the three most advanced and influential jazz pianists of that time, namely Monk, Brubeck and Evans. It might have been a bit more interesting had they dipped into their musical vocabulary just a bit, particularly in a tune like A Minor Waltz which I felt was rather less inventive or effective as the surrounding material. For me, this was the one real “lounge jazz” moment on this disc. Ready or Not impressed me more as a composition, and the subtle yet fascinating work that McMahon does in the background really livens up Davidian’s solo, which becomes more complex in its second and third choruses. Eventually, Davidian sits back and lets McMahon take over with an excellent and complex solo of his own. In the last chorus, McMahon suddenly plays back beats that go against the established rhythm—a nice touch.
When We First Met is a lyrical ballad, and here, in particular, I missed the influence of Bill Evans, even though the tempo picks up a bit (to a nice medium bounce) once the rhythm section entered. Before I Forget, recorded live, is an uptempo piece that, oddly enough, seems built on Charlie Chaplin’s famous tune Smile, though the middle section does not. Davidian has some fun in this one, inserting some descending chromatic chords against Ousley’s inventive and active bass. This is a live track, and the interaction between the members of the trio is at its peak here, particularly in the way they play with time.
Ousley’s original A Sea of Voices opens with an a cappella bass solo. Eventually Davidian enters behind him, sprinkling a few notes, followed by McMahon with some cymbal washes. At Davidian’s next entry, the trio finally coalesces, but alas the tune doesn’t really develop much beyond that except for Davidian’s fine double-time solo passage. The pianist also plays an excellent double-time chorus on If I Didn’t Need You. The album closes with Sometime, Somewhere, another ballad. I always feel that it’s a mistake, and a downer, to end a set with a ballad, where live or on a record, but that’s what they do here. Ousley contributes a very maudlin bowed bass solo.
Overall, then, a fine album with some very interesting moments.
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
Follow me on Twitter (@artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)