Josephine Davies ‘Satori’ (Whirlwind) 4/5

Tenor and soprano saxophonist Josephine Davies’ “Satori” is an improvisatory trio project reflecting the definition of its Buddhist title, a moment of enlightening presence and inner spaciousness away from the clutter of thought. The British musician and composer collaborates on this session with sidemen Dave Whitford on double bass, and Paul Clarvis on drums, in an immersive live recording of chordless originals.
Davies’ varied artistic journey includes classical saxophone quartets, as well as key involvement in more expansive ensembles such as the Pete Hurt Orchestra and as resident tenorist and composer with the London Jazz Orchestra. Here though, everything is stripped right back for this sax/bass/drums trio outing, where in-the-moment music making becomes fascinating to explore, as explained by Davies: “Dave and Paul make things their own very quickly- their creativity and spontaneity always bring something new, and the trio is able to move forward with great ease. So there’s a real draw to this sense of space; having the freedom to explore ideas, without a harmony instrument, not knowing where they will lead”. To this end, Whitford and Clarvis are the perfect partners for Davies, their intuition and willingness to go with the flow, making for some wonderful moments to savour.

Eight tracks feature on the album, from two live recordings made in Iklectik in June and September 2016. As a recording to experience again and again, “Satori” also emphasises the inherent dynamics and energy present in live music – the vital lifeblood of any improvising musician. The recording does justice to the performance, capturing well the atmosphere and energy of the gig itself.

The album kicks off with “Insomnia”, featuring the spiritual, spiralling soprano saxophone of Davies. Although there is a slow-burning exuberance to this piece, it also feels contemplative, as if the trio are finding their path, separate roads becoming unified as the tune develops and becomes freer in such an imaginative way. Originally conceived as a segued three-piece medley, “Something Small”, “The Tempest Prognosticator” and “Snakes” remind me a little of listening to “Trio Libero”, the acoustic trio of Andy Sheppard, Seb Rochford and Michel Benita. There’s that same kind of natural inquisitiveness between the musicians, with each player enjoying a furtively inventive palette. The joyfully rhythmic swagger of “Paradoxy”, with echoes of Sonny Rollins, appears in two different takes- a nod to classic jazz albums of the 50’s and 60’s- both turning lively individual spotlights on each musician. The snappy feel to “Crisp Otter” (say it and you’ll get the reference to the US saxman, and his Underground Band), grooves with a delicious Potter-like effervescence, whilst “The Yips” pervades the air with a distinct South African flavour.

“Satori” is so full of ideas, vision, and joyful improvisation that one can only take pleasure in the listening. Some trios that choose to perform without a harmony instrument can feel somewhat dour, making the listener think that there’s something missing. When it’s done well, as it undoubtedly is here, it makes for a delightful journey of adventure and discovery.

Mike Gates