Fans of tenor saxophonist Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis will completely understand what I'm about to say: There are great Lockjaw Davis albums. And then there are really great Lockjaw Davis albums. What constitutes a really superb Davis recording? Davis has to be a bit on edge and faced with formidable, assertive competition behind him. On such albums, he doesn't just plunge in with a biting reed attack. He also gives it a big 360-degree twist. Goin' to the Meeting, a Prestige date from May 1962, was one of those all-in outings.
Davis' sound on the tenor was always big, bossy and crisp, like long tears of wax paper. But unlike many other tenor saxophonists with a tough sound, Davis' was switch-blade sharp, taut and crisp with an endless stream of blues ideas. He most often exhibited this extra, take-charge sound when soloing in front of a big band. I'm thinking of Davis leading his own band on Fox and the Hounds (1966) and Lock the Fox (1966) as well as Count Basie's Evergreens (1969).
But his high point in small groups for me was this album (and a few others that I'm going to save for another post). Forget the Cookbook series with Shirley Scott, as good as those albums were. Here, he's completely out of the cage and looking for a brawl. Davis always was much more menacing when he had the right drummer on the date plus either Latin percussion or a swinging guitar.
Which is why Goin' to the Meeting is so notable. The quartet behind Davis here is Horace Parlan on piano, Buddy Catlett on bass, Art Taylor on drums and Willie Bobo on conga. Parlan was one of the very finest session pianists of the period, adding sophisticated soul, block chords and urban gospel voicings. This album gives Parlan ample solo room to match wits with Davis. Catlett's bass snaps on every tune, Taylor's sticks are feverishly on time, and Bobo's conga ups the pulse, keeping Davis both motivated and restless.
The album opens with Yes Yes (My Baby Said Yes), an up-tempo blues by Davis that jabs like a sewing machine needle all the way through. Please Send Me Someone to Love was a big r&b hit by Percy Mayfield in 1950. Davis plays the ballad without the bump and grind of the original but still manages to keep it in soulful territory. Davis' own Goin' to the Meeting is a medium-tempo blues that provides some of his finest playing on the album along with a positively beautiful solo by Parlan.
Oh, Babee is a walking blues by Davis, with the saxophonist sailing through, exchanging call and response lines with Taylor's drum figures. Pass the Hat, an uptempo Davis original with a lyrical melody, lets him rip on the changes. Little Cougar is a barn-burner that also is an exceptional example of Davis' cool and crafty zig-zagging at a high speeds.
There are three standards here, all taken at brisk tempos: the Gershwins' Our Love Is Here to Stay, Cole Porter's Night and Day and Rodgers and Hammerstein's People Will Say We're in Love. In each case, Davis brings fresh life to these songs with an cocky, confident attitude.
Goin' to the Meeting is certainly in my top-five Lockjaw Davis recordings. You can't stop finger snapping to the beat. You also can't help but smile Davis' big, bad braggadocio.
JazzWax tracks: Goin' to the Meeting (1962) appears to have been combined on a CD with Misty (1960), a Moodsville date with Shirley Scott. The first 10 tracks belong to Misty while tracks 11-15 are from Goin' to the Meeting. You'll find it here.
JazzWax clip: There are no clips from Goin' to the Meeting at YouTube, but this one featuring Davis soloing on Whirly-Bird in 1965 with the Count Basie Orchestra gives you a sense of his swaggering and biting saxophone style...