As described in the liner notes to his new album, We Remember Helen, classically based pianist Roger Davidson is a man of many musical interests. In addition to an early passion for jazz, “Roger,” we are told, “has recorded prolifically, embracing everything from sacred choral works to tango, bossa nova, and klezmer.” It is the jazz pianist that is on display in this new album dedicated to well known jazz producer and manager Helen Keane, who managed the great Bill Evans from 1963 until his death and encouraged the young Davidson, a junior high classmate of her son, to pursue his interest in jazz, and later worked with him on a 1991 trio album Ten to Twelve, but died before its eventual release in 2006.
Like that album, We Remember Helen puts together a trio to play a collection of standards and original compositions. Rejoining the pianist is bassist David Finck; Lewis Nash takes over the drums–a formidable trio of professionals. This is an ensemble firmly rooted in the ground plowed by giants like Evans, Oscar Peterson, and their ilk—traditional straight forward jazz played with melodic style.
The album opens with two classics from the great American songbook: a strong extended version of the Jerome Kern, “Yesterdays” with a little quotation from “Lullaby of Birdland” and “What’s New.” Benny Golson’s jazz standard “Whisper Not” features some nice solo work by Finck. “Beautiful Love,” is a song, the liner notes explain, that came out at the height of the depression and didn’t get much traction until it was later picked up by late modern jazz artists, most notably Bill Evans. Davidson says he plays it “the same basic way that Bill played it.” Nash gets in some nice licks as well. “How Deep Is the Ocean” is a lyrical gem. I must say that there are passages in the Irving Berlin standard that are played with a touch of Gershwin.
Original Davidson pieces include the plaintive title song “We Remember Helen” played with tender emotional clarity, “A Tune for Helen,” and a couple of old time Southern flavored jewels, a funky blues, “Soul Search” and a gospel tinted “Dance of Faith.” Both offer a dynamic change of pace. A change echoed in the percussion driven “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho.”
A David Finck original, “The Way He Captured You,” together with “Charade,” the Woody Herman classic “Early Autumn,” and another Kern tune, “All the Things You Are” played as a bossa nova round out the album which closes with a final homage to Helen by way of Bill Evans’ “Waltz For Debby.” Davidson plays this last with a light lilting touch and Finck joins in with a bowed bass solo. It makes a sweet conclusion to a fine album.
A glance at Davidson’s website makes clear how varied his musical interests are. There are a lot of albums in a lot of genres, and while variety is nothing to sneer at, after spending some time with We Remember Helen, you have to hope he will devote some more of his time and effort to his love of jazz.