In high school, bassist Jean-Luc Davis listened to ’90s alt-rock bands like Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden at the same time he was getting into jazz. (During those years, the Colorado native also studied at the Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts.) So when he was tapped to do a two-month residency at Noctune in mid-2017, he decided to meld the two genres, putting jazz spins on some of his favorite ’90s songs.
Davis prepped for the residency by sitting with a cup of coffee at Thump and making a huge list of every song that was popular when he was a teenager, paring them down to what he thought would work best in the jazz format.
A month after his residency at Nocturne, Davis went into Mighty Fine Productions to record some of those covers for Tomorrow, Today, his debut album as a bandleader that he’ll be celebrating at a release party on Saturday, March 23, with trumpeter Shane Endsley, saxophonist Peter Sommer, pianist Jack Dunlevie and drummer Kevin Matthews, all of whom play on the album.
Tomorrow, Today, which was partially funded by a grant from Pathways to Jazz, is made up of six Davis originals and six covers, including Oasis’s “Champagne Supernova,” Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt,” Blind Melon’s “No Rain," Smashing Pumpkins' "1979," Beck’s “Loser," on which Matthews’s drumming essentially emulates Beck’s rapping during the verses while the rest of the band comes in during the chorus.
“The drums are actually playing the melody, so it’s a little bit weird to hear it that way, because we’re not used to hearing that in the drums,” Davis says.
Davis tapped Endsley, who’s also a member of the forward-thinking group Kneebody, for the project, since he had a willingness to play the rock material — “because not every jazz musician is open to that.”
“Shane is definitely game for anything,” Davis adds. “He’s done a lot of cool experimental stuff, and so has Peter. They’re both just really open souls. They’re really fun to work with. I really love their playing. Obviously, a lot of the playing [Peter] has done with Art Lande over the years has been stuff that I’ve checked out and really enjoy. Then obviously, Kneebody is such a cool band, and Shane’s tone is absolutely incredible. His ideas are so beautiful and thoughtful.”
The 36-year-old Davis notes that Endsley and Sommer are about ten years older than he is, and Dunlevie and Matthews are about ten years younger.
“It’s a really big age gap,” Davis says. “I’m always into that in music. It always makes for some interesting things.”
Davis has been working with Matthews in a professional capacity for three or four years, and digs the drummer because he plays less intensely when it comes to volume.
“Jack is a super-good fit for me, just because his favorite jazz pianist is Brad Mehldau,” Davis says. “Anytime I have piano in mind for something, I’m usually wishing it was Mehldau. And Jack knows how to do that.”
Davis, who’s an in-demand jazz bassist as well as a member of the Boulder-based bluegrass band the Railsplitters, says he enjoys when he gets to work with musicians who give him a lot of creative leeway.
“Like, basically give me enough information so I understand what you’re looking for, but leave it open enough to where I don’t have to do exactly what’s in your brain all the time,” Davis says. “Because I like working with people that give me that leeway, I feel like it’s a courtesy, and also I feel like the end result is better when you give other people that leeway.”
With his original compositions, which include trumpeter Tom Gershwin, he did just that. He tries to write songs that don’t have more information than they need, and his songs tend to be based on palates of sound with different musical ideas layered on top of each other.
Take his composition “Frayed Sweater on a Winter Day,” where he says the time moves backward and forward and kind of pushes and pulls while getting slower and faster. He hopes the tune makes the listener think of a windy winter day, “just kind of making you feel cold to the core, and you’re kind of holding yourself close, but you've got somewhere you've got to be.”