The New Wonders • Steppin’ Out

When exploring 1920s jazz it is easy for today’s musicians to be a little too reverential of the past, seeking to recreate aspects of earlier recordings. Cornetist Mike Davis’ New Wonders takes a different approach by being creative as if they were a previously undiscovered New York band from 1928-29. While most of the songs (with a couple of exceptions) on their recent Steppin’ Out CD are known, many have not been played this way before.

Davis, Ricky Alexander (alto and clarinet), trombonist Josh Holcomb, banjoist Jared Engel, Andy Schumm (a great cornetist who is heard here with one exception on piano), bass-saxophonist Jay Rattman, and drummer Colin Hancock form a group that has the ability to sound a bit like a Frank Trumbauer unit with Bix Beiderbecke, Red Nichols’ Five Pennies of the ’20s, a smaller version of the California Ramblers, Paul Whiteman, or an unknown contemporary of those bands.

Red Wood Coast

There are plenty of surprises heard throughout Steppin’ Out such as the vocal duet by Davis and Alexander on “Everybody Loves My Baby,” the reworking of Fats Waller’s “My Fate Is In Your Hands,” and the explosive but complex jam on “My Gal Sal.” Other true treats are Schumm’s original “Half Seas Over” (which sounds as if it could have been written by Arthur Schutt) and the completely obscure early 1920s number “Helen Gone.”

But the biggest surprise is the New Wonders’ deconstruction of “Cornet Chop Suey.” Virtually every revival of the Louis Armstrong showcase sticks close to the original recording but not this one. The New Wonders’ rendition sounds as if Red Nichols and Fud Livingston decided to reinvent the tune and, other than recreating Armstrong’s famous chorus (harmonized for the cornets of Davis, Schumm and Hancock), this arrangement is quite different than one would expect.

The best jazz of any style or period has unexpected moments. On Steppin’ Out, Mike Davis and his musicians show that there is no reason that classic jazz has to be predictable.

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Steppin’ Out
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Scott Yanow

Since 1975 Scott Yanow has been a regular reviewer of albums in many jazz styles. He has written for many jazz and arts magazines, including JazzTimes, Jazziz, Down Beat, Cadence, CODA, and the Los Angeles Jazz Scene, and was the jazz editor for Record Review. He has written an in-depth biography on Dizzy Gillespie for He has authored 11 books on jazz, over 900 liner notes for CDs and over 20,000 reviews of jazz recordings.

Yanow was a contributor to and co-editor of the third edition of the All Music Guide to Jazz. He continues to write for Downbeat, Jazziz, the Los Angeles Jazz Scene, the Jazz Rag, the New York City Jazz Record and other publications.

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