Autumn . . . . . my favorite season! Oh, for true Floridians it tends only to conjure up hopes (usually false ones, at that) of a little less humidity and heat. Yet, for most, it’s the image of crisp, clear skies, the brilliant display of color that kaleidoscopically evolves almost daily, and the profound sense of settling in – the year’s maturity now in evidence after the youthful exuberance of Spring and sweaty swagger of Summer have waned – that signify early Autumn.
David Caffey is nationally recognized for his leadership as an arts administrator, academic, and jazz educator; dedicating much of his career (40+ years!) to these efforts. While widely celebrated in this role (he is in the California Jazz Educators Hall of Fame and served as President of the International Association for Jazz Education), I imagine many have been relatively unaware of the depth of his background and skills as a composer/arranger (he is not only extensively published with charts played by school ensembles throughout the US but led and maintained a professional band in Los Angeles back in the 90s) – an oversight that “Enter Autumn” should quickly remedy! For here, he has handpicked a crackerjack ensemble of seasoned jazz artists, most hailing from the musically rich Denver/Northern Colorado area that he has called home since 2005, to render his music as he has long envisioned. As a result, this is not a typical debut recording . . . . .. a Beaujolais with sparkling moments but no lasting notes to savor. This is the work of a mature writer – whose clarity of thought and intention, whose deft manipulation of line, color, and density, and whose thoughtfulness of purpose is finally on a stage that artfully showcases it. Oh . . . and by the way, did I mention . . . . it swings!! Oh, does it swing!!!
It doesn’t take long for the band to establish its intentions! The opening arrangement of Freddie Hubbard’s up-tempo blues Birdlike launches us immediately . . . propelled by the driving, veteran rhythm section, punctuated by the powerful brass, and in short order set ablaze by Brad Goode’s fiery trumpet solo. Scored in 2014 for the Colorado Jazz Orchestra, this dynamic chart has already established itself as a fan and band favorite with multiple festival/broadcast performances. “I’ve been a Freddie Hubbard fan for many years,” relates Caffey, “and I started looking and listening closely to him again about a year ago. I was really interested in how he used the Bebop Scales in the context of his improvisations. The soli (a buoyant blend of saxes with soprano lead, trumpet, & guitar) in this arrangement is an attempt to incorporate his solo techniques without quoting him exactly.”
The CD’s two contrafacts, JJ’s Friends (Just Friends) and Not Bob (Cherokee) further illustrate David’s grounding in the jazz tradition and particular affinity for bright tempos, bop, and hard bop. JJ’s Friends is, of course, a tribute to the great J.J. Johnson, who has inspired so many trombonists, including at one point a young Caffey. Here he has transcribed J.J.’s solo from the “Standards – Live at the Village Vanguard” album utilizing it as the centerpiece of the chart, a challenging trombone soli that this superb section, framed by Nat Wickham (lead) and Gary Mayne (bass), handles with aplomb. Paul McKee (a somewhat recent refugee to Colorado from Florida) and Mark Patterson (a former student of Caffey’s now residing in New York) offer up impressive solos as does Dana Landry on piano. Not Bob, the CD’s closer, was also written for the Colorado Jazz Orchestra. A smoking head eventually leads to a battle royal between the band’s high-flying tenor saxophonists, Peter Sommer and Kenyon Brenner.
I was delighted to see Samba De Linda included on this CD as it is one of the first of David’s charts I ever remember performing. Dedicated to his wife (it was finished on her birthday in 1979) it has held up beautifully (as has Linda, I might add!) with its effervescent melody and driving groove. Wil Swindler burns brightly on his soprano saxophone while Paul McKee’s seemingly effortless trombone floats then stings over a punctuated and roiling Latin ostinato.
Caffey mined his earlier body of work for a couple of other gems as well. Elegy, the CD’s lone ballad is a poignant and emotional response to the untimely river rafting death of a young trombonist David had mentored. He describes its genesis. “I remember putting my hands on the piano keyboard and, with really no thought, played the first fragment of the intro. The rest of the chart just flowed from there. It’s one of the few pieces I have ever written that seemed to just ‘write itself’”. Wil Swindler is stunning in the featured solo outing, this time on alto sax. Blue 16, a 16-bar minor blues, was culled from the book of David’s L.A. pro band. A lilting Golson-esque “stroll” occasionally broken up by some angular interceding melodic lines, the chart provides trumpet soloist Brad Goode a welcome opportunity to stretch out - resulting in an eye-popping solo that is as blues-drenched as it is virtuosic. Resetting to simmer, the sax soli, augmented notably (!) by guitarist Steve Kovalcheck (who Caffey uses to great effect throughout the album) slowly turns up the heat until the brass, led by the crystalline lead trumpet of Steve Hawk, can restrain itself no longer and bursts into the shout.
Both Sides of the Coin is David’s clever arrangement of Michael Brecker’s wickedly delightful composition for Steps Ahead. Jim White, whose propulsion, creativity, and crisp articulation are in ample evidence on this entire recording, solos memorably on the final ostinato. But check out his playing behind the scintillating solos of Kovalcheck and Sommer as well. Good stuff!!!
Finally, there’s the title track Enter Autumn. Inspired by regular autumnal walks in a park near his home while recovering from shoulder replacement surgery, David patiently and confidently shepherds and shapes this lovely bossa; capturing our attention initially with the delicate color of the soprano and harmon-muted trumpet rendering the melody, exposing other layers of color through counterlines and background figures, and then allowing the piece to grow organically to the much more bold rhythmic trading found between brass and drums near its climax. Like the entire recording, this is the work of a mature, thoughtful, assured composer/arranger – one who has fully embraced autumn and all it has to offer!
Distinguished Professor of Jazz Studies
University of South Florida
Grammy Nominee for RIVER RUNS and WHISPERS ON THE WIND