The New Wonders

The New Wonders album coverI’ll lead this by saying this is a different album from the one Scott Yanow reviews in this issue. He is quicker on the draw than me and the album he covers is a recent Mike Davis release featuring newly recorded music. This is a reissue of The New Wonders’ self-titled debut, recorded and self released in 2016. It is now seeing a distribution beyond the merch table courtesy of Turtle Bay Records. In listing off the members in his 2017 review of this album Scott Yanow says “Remember those names because each of them has the potential to be an important force in the classic jazz of the next couple of decades.” He was of course right. These guys have been involved in many groups and albums over the last eight years so this is a nice peek at where it all started.

The New Wonders is led by Bixian cornetist Mike Davis and here includes Ricky Alexander on clarinet and alto, trombonist Joe McDonough, pianist Dalton Ridenhour, banjoist Jared Engel, bass saxophonist Jay Rattman, and drummer Jay Lepley. Their new release includes some of the same names but with Colin Hancock, Andy Schumm, and Josh Holcomb in the mix. The new all star line up was formed for a gig in Switzerland and featured on our cover as the New York Classic Seven, the New Wonders name is much more memorable, a nod to the brand of cornet used by Bix.

Red Wood Coast

There is a certain kind of jazz that attracts both an older generation of research-minded jazz fans and a nucleus of young musicians personified by men like Mike Davis and his band. They enjoy hot dance bands of the ’20s, with more formal arrangements making space for heat and expression that takes an acquired ear to appreciate fully in a way rough and tumble jazz does not. The New Wonders would be an unlikely invite to bluegrass festivals, while a few others in their generation have, without compromise, found themselves embraced at such events because of a gritty up from the dust sound. The sound here is instead up from the New York and Chicago ballrooms.

My entry into jazz was by way of the uncelebrated sweet popular music I would find on 78 RPM records in the decades after the “good stuff” had been hoarded. Lyrical records often backed by a studio dance band that to me became the essence of early jazz. I had heard a mountain of it before exposing myself to things like the Armstrong’s Hot Five or Morton’s Red Hot Peppers. Those weren’t turning up in the bins. What did turn up was classics of the kind you will find on this album. Lyrical wonders like Walter Donaldson’s “Reaching for Someone and Not Finding Anyone There,” Fred Fisher’s “I’m Walking Between the Raindrops,” and Richard Whiting’s “She’s Funny That Way.” The last, presented here with all verses intact, is the most recognizable number on the album, along with perhaps “Persian Rug.” All capture the period perfectly, especially given how fitting a vocalist Mike Davis is. He is not straining into character, that is just how he sings, a natural star of yesteryear.

Schooled musicians often come to early jazz as a rebellion against the strictures of modern jazz enforced in the classroom. It clicks for them and is freeing. Davis seems to have come by that route. He also loves to learn the intricacies of a tune and its history. Inevitably tied to Bix because of his look and instrument, he casts much more broadly for influence, as likely to reference a Louis solo as one from Bix, having explored the various recordings of each title to create something for his band that is new.

Hot Jazz Jubile

I do wish the CD came with a little in the album notes department, not everything takes a book, but a few paragraphs about the intent of the album or even a band biography does help to “sell” it. I encourage you to read our 2017 profile of Mike Davis in lieu of notes. As a debut this record makes a strong statement of purpose, there was no one else in 2016 putting the marker down for this kind of jazz, at least not of Mike’s generation, and he does it impeccably. Now there are a few more, Colin Hancock comes to mind, and it doesn’t surprise me to see him in the new line up.

I have just popped in his new record, Steppin’ Out, which along with star power benefits from a Davis with eight years of steady gigging in NYC as a sideman to Terry Waldo, Vince Giordano, Glenn Crytzer, and everyone else, as well as endless jam nights at Mona’s. My initial startled takeaway is the continuity from one record to the other. The arrangements are more studied but the heart is in the same place. Mike Davis is still making music on his terms, and will be a leading figure in our music for decades to come. You would do well to put both of his albums in your basket.

The New Wonders
Mike Davis and the New Wonders
TurtleBayRecords.com

Joe Bebco is the Associate Editor of The Syncopated Times and Webmaster of SyncopatedTimes.com

Or look at our Subscription Options.