Corbett vs. Dempsey, the record label operated by the owners of the West Town art gallery of the same, tends to focus on rigorous improvised music and free jazz, but a new release presents a wonderful shift in stylistic focus. Scapula is a hard-swinging, nine-track collection of impossibly rare bebop cut in Chicago in 1949 by a combo led by saxophonist George Davis. The short liner notes on the back of the cover, written by John Corbett, seem to contain what little is known about Davis: he was leading a group in the mid-40s that included singer Jackie Cain and pianist Roy Kral, who, after a later stint with saxophonist and bandleader Charlie Ventura, went on to a successful career as a duo. Davis led a quartet that featured the pair and cut two 78s for the Aristocrat label in 1947, but otherwise the saxophonist went undocumented.

About a decade ago Corbett came across some acetate sides by a Davis-led sextet (acetates were quickly degrading records pressed directly from a master tape or a live performance for documentation). Nothing is known about the personnel, and the hokey context of the session—performed as if it were taking place in front of an audience at a nightclub, with Davis requesting that the audience keep quiet—doesn’t offer much help. But the performances are wonderful and provide a nice snapshot of the working bebop scene in Chicago at the time. Acetates don’t hold up well and so the sound quality here is less than ideal—the silly banter by Davis is often louder than the music (he opens the session saying, “Well, well, 1 AM and people still awake. If you’re awake you know this is the George Davis Sextet. If you’re not awake you soon will be.”)

There’s a delightful, energetic openness to the performance and selections, including a spin on the Nellie Lutcher R&B hit “He’s a Real Gone Guy” and the ubiquitous ballad “Body & Soul.” Most of the tracks, however, are brisk originals that capture the energy of vintage bebop in its all glory—great, zigzagging themes, high-velocity tempos, and nonchalant virtuosity. In his introduction to a track labeled “Piano Man’s Idea” (there’s no way of knowing if that’s the actual title, or if it’s merely a designation for a theme dreamed up by the group’s keyboardist) Davis says, “Now we’d like to play a typical bop tune in typical bop style—and this being a typical bop joint, the picture is complete.” You can hear this representative number below.


Today’s playlist:

Gidon Kremer and Kremerata Baltica, The Art of Instrumentation: Homage to Glenn Gould (Nonesuch)
Eero Koivistoinen, For Children (Otava/Jazzpuu)
Various artists, More Perfect Harmony: Sweet Soul Groups 1967-1975 (Kent)
Doris Monteiro, Doris Monteiro (Continental/Warner Bros., Brazil)
Craig Harris and Tailgater’s Tales, Blackout in the Square Root of Soul (JMT)