Lord of the Rings comes to mind as a familiar example of a story of unexpected strengths coming from deep within their souls to bring about great good. “Seven American Artists” appeals in much the same way. At first glance, one would not expect spectacular success from a small town guitar/bass/drums jazz trio paralleling Mussorgsky's “Pictures at an Exhibition.” They lack the air pushing (sound producing) power of a symphony orchestra. They lack the individual training of classically trained musicians and composers which one would think mandatory for a descriptive tribute to respected, imaginative, various painters. Mother of God, Mussorgsky himself faced the tremendous challenge of translating visual into auditory art! Who would imagine any small jazz combo tackling the alchemical process of converting the strokes of paint brushes into the strokes of drum brushes?
Composer/guitarist Roger Davis reached inside his creative core and taught himself to hear visual art. He passed that novel, rewarding skill first to trusted bandstand peers Ryan Woodall (bass guitar) and Tony Mallard(percussion), then to listeners(or might “viewers” be a more accurate label for the audience?). Artists praised in song here are Georgia O'Keeffe, Alexander Calder, Leon Schenker, Claude Howell, Minnie Evans, Mary Cassatt and Romare Bearden. A bonus track, New Horizons,” completes the CD, and presents one small, subjective question to the traditionalist critic – Might a connecting piece, something like the “Promenade” in “Pictures at an Exhibition,” representing the art viewer's movement from one piece to the next, appearing briefly with small variation between each composition, have added the musical equivalent of an adverb to the adjectives of homage so fluently expressed throughout this opus?
An indisputable bonus to the release is Roger's work on melodica, kalimba and keyboard. Long identified with jazz guitar, his skills with other instruments have been virtually unsuspected by his community until now. As new elements in his sound, played, perhaps, with a bit less confidence than his guitar, they impart a freshness to the perspective on paintings in this release ... one hears a viewer who is by no means taking the art for granted, but seeing new facets at each glance, catching his breath, confronted by magic.
We listeners are confronted by magic, here, too, by a generous artist setting out to make us appreciate artists from a different medium, by the transformance, before our eyes and ears, of scenery and color into rhythm and pitch, of the impossible being beautifully achieved.