Reviews of Dragon Father:

New York City Jazz Record:
by Ken Micallef
Davis’ Dragon Father, is similar in spirit (to Boom Crane) but
expanded to a quintet with Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Oscar
Noriega (alto sax/clarinet), Russ Lossing (piano) and
Eivind Opsvik (bass). The music again teeters between
abstract journeys and in-the-pocket pulses. No matter
how far out this quintet explores, swing is their common
currency, whether it’s nearly trad or as out as Albert
Ayler. Recorded at Cornelia Street Café in New York
City in March 2013, the music is beautifully rendered.
After much jockeying and soloing the quintet
arrives at a swing pulse punctuated by unusual accents
in opener “Dirt Farmer”. “Spicy Water” recalls water
dripping from a faucet, shimmers of subtle group
melody played in unison with brushed drums. The
quintet slowly shakes up the song’s through-composed
melody, a rubato breakdown of growling cornet and
stuttering alto leading to a delicate piano solo. At one
point in the tune, Davis and Opsvik play an amazing
rhythm that sounds like two small animals wrestling
for dominance. Dragon Father continues with the
zigzagging eighth-note pulse of “May 16th”, horror
soundtrack experimentation leading to a kind of Latin
overdrive in “Pavilion of Temporary Happiness” and
closes with the lovely title ballad, which wouldn’t be
out of place on a Paul Motian album, played straight
and open, allowing the simple melody to shine and
flourish. This closes a heaving, to-and-fro album on a
grand note, the calm after the storm.

Downtown Music Gallery:
by Bruce Lee Gallanter
JEFF DAVIS With KIRK KNUFFKE/OSCAR NORIEGA/RUSS LOSSING/EIVIND OPSVIK – Dragon Father (Fresh Sound NT 444; EEC) Featuring Jeff Davis on drums & compositions, Kirk Knuffke on cornet, Oscar Noreiga alto sax & clarinets, Russ Lossing on piano and Eivind Opsvik on bass. This disc was recorded live at the Cornelia Street Cafe, one of the few clubs left in Manhattan that still features cutting edge of Downtown’s vast and ever-evolving scene. Besides being one of the best drummers in town that has so many strong masters, Jeff Davis is also growing into being a strong composer and selective bandleader. Each of his discs have featured varied personnel and he continues to surprise us with his well-chosen cast of collaborators. Each member of this quintet is a bandleader on their own as well as being a strong composer and talented musician on their own. Mr. Knuffke has appeared on several new discs I(with Ideal Bread & a trio with Steve Gauci & Ken Filiano) and consistently surprises us with his diverse abilities. The same can be said for reeds wiz Oscar Noreiga who shines in both Tim Berne’s Snakeoil and in the all-star quartet Endangered Species. Although Mr. Davis often still reminds me of Tony Williams, Jeff rarely overplays and always keeps the band well-balanced. Another under-recognized master is pianist Russ Lossing who also sounds wonderful here. His solo on the opening piece, “Dirt Farmer”, sounds as if he is about to explode and comes pretty close to just doing that. I dig the way “Spicy Water” keeps shifting tempo throughout, slower/faster/slower, as if the current were being manipulated by some outside force (like the way the moon effects the tide). It is great to hear Mr. Noreiga soaring on alto since he plays mainly clarinet with Snakeoil. Besides having a great title, “Pavillion of Temporary Happiness”, is long and filled with suspense-filled sections as well as some intense horn passages and solos and amazing piano & drums interplay. Mr. Davis wrote a fine two part suite for his son called, “Eli’s Progress” which again has both horns playing tightly around one another in both written and freer sections. This disc ends with a swell ballad called “Dragon Father”, which is a particularly subtle gem of a performance. Hopefully this fabulous quintet will be back at Cornelia Street sometime soon. In the meantime, they have left us with another of this month’s best discs.

Reviews of Leaf House:

New York City Jazz Record:
“Jeff Davis has quietly emerged as one of the most consistently engaging drummers of his cohort. He propels various improvising ensembles with textural dynamism and rhythmic inventiveness without resorting to bombast. On Leaf House, his second leader release, he composes tumultuous music for the alwayselastic piano trio form.

Joined by pianist Russ Lossing and bassist Eivind Opsvik, their familiarity begets a fearlessness essential for the music’s success. Each takes chances, with the confidence that the others will react as necessary, creating eight selections that favor collective improvising over standard head-solo-head forms.

Frenetically pounding keys erupt on the title track, mirrored by halting drums and bass. The theme recedes to a freer section and, as Davis and Opsvik roam, Lossing interjects with ferocious stabs; the trio orbits the initial theme before a collective restatement in conclusion. “Faded” begins with a lolling sway as cascading piano and walking bass elicit propulsive drumming. Opsvik’s solo favors subdued dynamics while Lossing decelerates with colorful trills. The swelling bass of “Overath” is punctuated with percussive piano and drums tripping over the line while Lossing unfurls a fusillade over the lurching feel. An eerily atmospheric free section emerges with Davis scraping cymbal edges for metallic textures, coupled with probing bass and light piano touches.

The trio sustains moody textures for the eightplus minutes of “Catbird”, initiated by haunting bowed bass. The quick roiling piano theme of “Saint Albert” sets up Davis’ extended foray and he suggests the theme while rolling around the kit. Tasteful rhythmic support props the almost romantic melodic piano line of “William Jacob”, which develops a sustained groove on which Lossing pounces. It dissipates for another musical turn by Davis that features dramatic tension and release. The episodic “Transitional Whales” moves from an ethereal passage with gestural playing that alludes to a theme to a quick explicitly stated ensemble section and never returns. Thrumming bass pushes the kinetic “Lion Mouth” and Opsvik sustains it for a melodically tinged solo before deconstructing to single notes. The full trio rebuilds the pace and soars to a frenzied finish.”

Sean Fitzell
-The New York City Jazz Record (January, 2013)

The Free Jazz Collective
By Philip Coombs (October 30th, 2012)
I was so excited to see another Jeff Davis recording especially after enjoying his last outing as leader ‘We Sleep Outside’ so much. A quick scan of the players cemented my hunch that this recording was going to be very different from his last. In this incarnation, he has done away with the saxophone, guitar, trumpet and Kris Davis steps away from the piano stool and is replaced with Russ Lossing.

‘Leaf House’ delivers a dense, complicated and literate vision from Davis. It reminds me of getting home in rush hour traffic or what I envision cutting through rough jungle with a machete would be like. It is specific and unrelenting. The musicians gathered here are up for the task of manifesting it and in most cases adding to this trio.

Russ Lossing’s playing is like listening to Einstein improv sing in the shower. I may not understand everything he says but there is an assumption that it is brilliant. Eivind Opsvik (bass) not only guides Lossing and Davis (drums) into some form of continuity, but is also responsible for mixing the album. He lets the bass swim in a wading pool of reverb. In sacrificing some of the crispness, he allows the instrument to get absorbed into the overall sound as if to fuel the other two, taking whenever needed. Davis composed all of the 8 tracks on ‘Leaf House’ and plays with charisma and composure, leading and listening, a stately combination.

Track one, ‘Leaf House’, starts with a pounding percussive line by Lossing and when the rhythm section enters, it turns into a trudging march with lots of room for Lossing to break out and continue pounding the keys on his piano.

Track two, ‘Faded’, comes at you from all angles. Davis starts with deceptively mellow brushes but quickly changes without drawing any attention. If you can get around the seemingly random angles that Lossing constantly hits you with, and allow yourself to piece together his puzzle, you will find that deep under his fingernails lies a beautiful and meticulously constructed melody. It’s rather hypnotic.

The remainder of the album keeps you in its grasp until it lets you go some 53 minutes later. It ends with ‘Lion Mouth’ which gives Opsvik his chance to contribute to the grand design with a focused and thoughtful solo of his own.

If it was Davis’ intent to challenge the listener with a deep dark record, then his mission was successful. He has also produced an album that will shine bright from his discography for years to come.

By Brent Black (October 29, 2012)

You know you have more work then you can handle when a release crosses your desk and you have no clue as to who sent it…I’m not complaining mind you, just sayin.’

I’ll also say the latest from drummer Jeff Davis entitled Leaf House breathes new life into the somewhat predictable format of the piano trio. Along for the ride on this incredibly engaging effort is Russ Lossing on piano and Eivind Opsvik on bass. To call Leaf House a unique improvisational experience is like saying Max Roach was a lyrical drummer, the classic undersell. Drummer Davis has the rare ability to play with what I refer to as controlled sonic fury while providing an organic heartbeat for one of the finest trios on the New York scene today. 

Davis is considered “left of center” in the jazz mecca that is the Big Apple but I don’t hear it. Instead I hear a dynamic artist that walks a rhythmic tightrope with inspired playing and dynamic compositions. Instead of the more traditional “soloist” with the standard trio with piano setting, we have three individual voices combined to form a musical synergy. One voice. 

“Leaf House” opens this release with complex rhythmic patterns that build a special dynamic tension until broken by a deceptively subtle simple melody. Pure genius and pure joy, an approach not often pulled off in a trio setting such as this. This trio has the ability to shift dynamics at will and even when hanging out in odd meter they never force the listener over the harmonic edge, they push the envelope with a textured presentation hard to find in similar trios. “Catbird” opens with a dark and lyrical bass solo, melancholy but never morose. The nuances added from Davis and Lossing paint a vivid sonic portrait from a deeper place than most musicians would dare go. Almost chamber jazz in presentation “Catbird” turns on a whimsical dime with an abrupt ending. Lossing virtuosity ranges from the percussive opening on the title track to an odd metered abstraction reminiscent of early Keith Jarrett in spots. I hate using musical frames of reference but with an adventurous trio that has found that special musical happy place between hard bop and free jazz, a unified perspective needs to be presented in this fashion. “Saint Albert” is a reflection on the influence of the great Albert Ayler and a stunning improvisational performance from Davis. “Transitional Whales” takes on a more open ended approach, slow crawling textures that move to a free jazz piano attack from Lossing and the continuation of the overwhelming sense of drama that seems to permeate Leaf House. Opsvik is a first call “A” list bassist whose lyricism and harmonic sense act as the binder for a spell binding display. 

This is my wheelhouse. Davis is working in a gray area of music where abstraction is his friend and his only enemy possibly being those that are not willing to listen. The creativity in composition alone is off the charts and the harmonic exploratory conducted is not for the faint of heart but for those anxious to hear the music taken in to a new dimension. 

As close to perfect as one could get, 4 out of 5 Stars…An amazing performance from a trio with unlimited potential!


short review:
Moving on, the drummer Jeff Davis has a new CD on the label,“Leaf House” (Fresh Sound/New Talent), also a piano trio, with Eivind Opsvik again on bass but with Russ Lossing on piano. Great disc, but the compositions by Davis, who wrote all eight tracks, are somewhat more angular and unusual than those of Stacken. “Transitional Whales” spends its first eight minutes with the bass and drums sounding a lot like a ship at sea, later joined by the piano with some hard hitting free improvisations for example; this is not music for the faint of heart. On my scale of looking at piano, from the straight forward sounds say of Oscar Peterson or Red Garland to the free experimentation of Matthew Shipp, this leans heavily in Shipp’s direction. It appeals to me, but my tastes for piano music are pretty broad.

A Jazz Listener’s Thoughts

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Reviews of We Sleep Outside:

Jeff Davis – We Sleep Outside (Loyallabel, 2010)
By Joe Higham

I remember reading (on this blog) the review of Kris Davis’s Rye Eclipse, it immediately struck me as an album that was a must to hear. And so when seeing that her husband and drummer Jeff Davis was bringing out his own album I was immediately fascinated to hear the results. Jeff Davis is involved with so many interesting projects and groups such as Matthew Bourne, Michael Bates Outside Sources, Jon Irabagon’s Outright, Eivind Opsvik’s Overseas …… and the list goes on! Here it seems Jeff Davis has brought all these experiences together into his compositions and group concept. We find frantic free playing, Bitches Brew styled grooves, tight ensemble work and great melodies. The opening track Bruce and Brunost Suite immediately jumps out of the speakers with all of the above qualities, Kris Davies playing a fender rhodes (through pedals) and the ever inventive Jon Goldberger on guitar provide amazing soundscapes for the various solos to evolve, eventually becoming something of a post Bitches Brew ambience of brooding menace.

Tracks such as Talk to Me develop from small but beautiful ideas (trumpet and piano) into full blown free scrummage(*) whilst Black Beard, another hard hitter, starts with a subtle drum solo moving into a tight ensemble melody over a hypnotic bass ostinato, Jon Goldberger’s guitar sound and distorted solo add to the whole and saxophonist Tony Barba plays like there’s no tomorrow. There are gentler moments such as Waltz , Fred Ullman and the strange closer We Sleep Outside, however much of the album bubbles with energy such as Slipper Hero with it’s trumpet/sax battle section and ominous rubato melody line.

In fact there is so much inventive playing and writing on this album that it’s difficult to believe at first, and yet the album manages to keep up the quality and consistency throughout whereas many such records end up being a variety of musical approaches that end up loosing their listener. This is a record for all those who enjoy their music left of centre, inside and out, swinging and grooving.

Personnel: Jeff Davis: drums, percussion; Eivind Opsvik: upright bass; Jon Goldberger: guitar; Kris Davis: piano, Fender Rhodes piano; Tony Barba: tenor and soprano saxophone, clarinet; Kirk Knuffke: trumpet.

(*) A Scrum for anyone interested is the word used in rugby for the pack of players fighting over the ball.

Downtown Music Gallery Review by Bruce Lee Gallanter

This is Jeff Davis’ first disc as a leader and it is a powerful debut from one of Downtown’s best drummers. I’ve played this a half dozen times over the past month and I am still blown away by the energy and craft that went into this gem. This first piece is called “Bruce and Brunost Suite” and it recalls the creative fury and sound of that amazing Miles Davis Quintet of the late sixties, with Tony Williams kicking up the energy another notch and Herbie Hancock playing some eerie electric piano. I wasn’t very familiar with saxist Tony Barba before this but his dark tone and controlled fire-breathing sound are perfect for this group. The rhythm team work by Mr. Davis and Mr. Opsvik is consistently intense and focused, you can tell that they’ve been playing together for a while with Tony Malaby, Jesse Stacken & Kris Davis’ bands. While the electric piano-led rhythm team swirls tightly together, the horns & guitar play simmering jabs around one another on top. The total effect is astonishing! I also didn’t know of guitarist Jon Goldberger before now, except for his playing on a recent release by another downtown drummer, Harris Eisenstadt (reviewed above), but I dig the angular & well-placed notes that Mr. Goldberger adds to this great sextet. What makes this group special is that they have this way of sounding both tight and loose at the same time. On “Talk to Me” the interplay between the tenor sax and guitar is especially intriguing as they trade notes back & forth while the piano, bass & drums spin furiously underneath. “Black Beard” reminds me of one of those great mid-seventies jazz/rock/fusion records with blisterin’ guitar, wailin’ sax, and an incredible rhythm team kicking it from below. For “Fred Ullmann”, Jeff has written some lovely, somber harmonies for the clarinet, trumpet, piano and guitar, spacious and exquisitely played. I dig the way the piano and drums play in different tempos on “Slipper Hero” and then come together by the time the horns jump in. Kris plays a great out piano solo that keeps changing direction as the song evolves through different sections. Jeff Davis’ composing is consistently engaging and it keeps his marvelous sextet on their toes throughout. Another one of this month’s under-appreciated masterworks. – Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery

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We Sleep Outside
Jeff Davis | Loyal Label (2010)
by Matthew Miller
All About Jazz New York – July 2010

Fans of progressive jazz know Jeff Davis, if not by name, then as the propulsive force behind bassist Michael Bates, multireedist Oscar Noriega, and a host New York mainstays. The Colorado native’s articulate, often-fiery brand of percussion has precedence in the styles of Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette, but transcends them through a process of de and reconstruction, and an episodic style that carries over into his compositions. Recorded in 2007, Davis’ debut as a leader, “We Sleep Outside,” is a remarkably assured document that finds the astute drummer in the company of a quartet of first-rate improvisers.

“Bruce And Brunost Suite” opens the album and features the quintet at its most open. Following a declaratory unison, Tony Barba’s emotive tenor emerges before being swallowed up by the ensemble. It’s a device that Davis employs throughout the album, blurring the lines between solo and ensemble passages and lending a fluidity to the thirteen minute track that makes for a hypnotically satisfying listen. Equally engrossing is Davis’ knack for layering textures and rhythms. Despite extended legato sections, Davis and bassist Eivind Opsvik sustain a sort of tidal pulse beneath Barba, trumpeter Kirk Knuffke, guitarist Jon Goldberger and Kris Davis’ Fender Rhodes that drives the piece and is accentuated by moments of pointillistic counterpoint.

Davis’ considerable composition skills also feature prominently in “Black Beard.” Following an extended drum solo, the ensemble erupts in chaotic response before collectively hurtling into a swift, thru-composed passage in 7/8 time. In addition to being a compositional showcase, “Black Beard” is an example of Davis’ skills as an arranger, and his ability to fully utilize his ensemble. Throughout “We Sleep Outside,” Davis, the composer/arranger shows that he has as much control over his ensemble as he does on his instrument, whether he is pushing the horns to the stratospheric heights of their ranges, or composing a line that transitions seamlessly into a solo.

The album concludes with the title track — an ominously inflected electro-acoustic soundscape that finds the quintet whittled down to just the rhythms section. It’s a departure from the six proceeding tracks, but its focus on tension, texture as well as a meditative aura make it a fitting foil and satisfying conclusion.

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We Sleep Outside
Jeff Davis | Loyal Label (2010)

By Troy Collins
Troy Collins
View Profile | Contact Me
Senior Contributor
Joined AAJ in 2006

Troy also writes for Point of Departure, and has written for Cadence, One Final Note, Bagatellen and Junkmedia.

The tightly knit Brooklyn scene has yielded a number of exceptional ensembles in the past few years, including Michael Bates’ Outside Sources, Kris Davis’ Quartet, Jon Irabagon’s Outright!, Kirk Knuffke’s Quartet, Eivind Opsvik’s Overseas, the RIDD Quartet and Tone Collector. The common denominator uniting these various bands is drummer Jeff Davis, a former student of pianist Art Lande and trumpeter Ron Miles. An inventive improviser partial to unconventional textures and unpredictable rhythms, Davis’ capricious creativity and alert responsiveness have made him an in-demand sideman.

We Sleep Outside, his first album as a leader, focuses as much on his talents as a writer and bandleader as an improviser. Like many of his generation, his writing encompasses a number of genres, yet Davis understands the importance of creating a context for such diversity. Sequencing individual tunes into a suite-like program, the set unfolds episodically, seamlessly blending divergent moods.

Supported by his longstanding sextet (formed in 2006), Davis and company blur the line between the composed and improvised with ease. Frequently obscuring the roles of soloist and accompanist, he often divides the group into rotating duos and trios, while offsetting individual soloists with bouts of collective improvisation. His band-mates practiced interplay is reinforced by a communal sensibility, reflected in their use of Davis’ services in their own ensembles, namely trumpeter Kirk Knuffke, bassist Eivind Opsvik and Jeff’s wife, pianist Kris Davis. Rounded out by guitarist Jon Goldberger and saxophonist Tony Barba, Davis’ unit embarks on a journey that revels in shadowy hues.

The brooding Milesian drama of “Bruce and Brunost Suite” opens the album, establishing the tenor of the session with a foreboding electro-acoustic undercurrent. Episodic in scope and anthem-like in approach, the suite gracefully modulates through a number of sections, featuring a string of visceral solos from the sextet. “Black Beard” ventures deeper into pungent jazz-rock territory, spotlighting Goldberger’s scorching arpeggios, Barba’s volcanic tenor and the leader’s turbulent kit work.

Davis’ compositional prowess comes to the fore on “Slipper Hero,” staging a series of dynamic interludes between different combinations of players before resolving in a soaring unison denouement. Culminating with similar fervor, but following a more expansive arc, “Talk to Me” rises from dulcet introspection to a cathartic dialogue between Barba’s frantic tenor and Goldberger’s incendiary guitar. Providing respite from the album’s acerbic fare, the understated “Waltz” and haunting ballad “Fred Ullmann” reveal Davis’ dark melodic gifts, while the collectively composed title track closes the album on a bittersweet note.

Underground scenes often foster an incredible range of new talent—counterbalanced by equally fierce competition. Historically it has been the role of independent labels to capture the prevailing zeitgeist, separating the innovators from the imitators. The Brooklyn-based Loyal Label is quickly becoming one of the most noteworthy of such stateside independents. We Sleep Outside is an excellent example of their aesthetic and a bold debut for Jeff Davis.

Track listing: Bruce and Brunost Suite; Talk To Me; Black Beard; Waltz; Fred Ullmann; Slipper Hero; We Sleep Outside.

Personnel: Jeff Davis: drums, percussion; Eivind Opsvik: upright bass; Jon Goldberger: guitar; Kris Davis: piano, Fender Rhodes piano; Tony Barba: tenor and soprano saxophone, clarinet; Kirk Knuffke: trumpet.

For the full story with links and photos, go to


“Drummer Jeff Davis has a steady profile in left-of-center New York jazz circles…”
– Nate Chinen, The New York Times

“Like many of his generation, his writing encompasses a number of genres, yet Davis understands the importance of creating a context for such diversity. Sequencing individual tunes into a suite-like program, the set unfolds episodically, seamlessly blending divergent moods.”
-All About Jazz (Troy Collins):

“Jeff Davis plays his kit with alert responsiveness, less a traditional rhythm section accompanist, than a creative soloist and spry agitator…”
-Troy Collins, All About Jazz

“Jeff Davis is the most discreet figure of the quartet, humility at the service of the collective yet extremely precise and reliable, a teaching for certain drummers who would have better served themselves by becoming wailing guitarists instead of banging our ears off the head.”
– Massimo Ricci, Temporary Fault, review of RIDD Quartet ‘Fiction Avalanche’

“Davis creates a foundation that effortlessly moves between defined groove and a more textural approach…” John Kelman, All About Jazz.

“Jeff Davis’ drumming inventions were constantly surprising, always catchy (delicate mallets on inverted cymbal resting on tom, sticks smartly scraping cymbals, irregular time, and more!)”
-Gilles Laheurte, Jazz Improv Magazine

“The rhythm section is top notch; Radding and Davis are two of the finest players of their generation. Their interaction is punchy and aggressive, yet fluid and dynamically varied. They veer from abstract, ramshackle rhythms peppered with metric modulation and stop-time tempos to sly understated swing with effortless grace.”
-Troy Collins, All About Jazz

“…drummer, Jeff Davis, is a force of nature!”
-Graciela Carriqui, CD Baby

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