richarddavis

Elvin Jones ‘Dear John C.’

Elvin’s name may be on the masthead, but this record is all about altoist Charlie Mariano and bassist Richard Davis. The entire record is a wonderful team effort, but my attention is continually drawn to Davis and Mariano and, in particular, Mariano’s alto work, which is some of his best playing on record. Piano duties fall to either Roland Hanna or Hank Davis, both of whom play very well too. This is an under-discussed title in the Elvin Jones catalog, and worth hearing if for no other reason than to hear what Mariano is capable of on an inspired day

Bobby Hutcherson ‘Dialogue’

Ethereal vibes are challenged by deep bass clarinet growls, as angular piano fills offset sinewy bass lines. Rapid-fire trumpet riffs buffet intricate drum work as a mournful soprano sax line spirals skywards into the night. ‘Dialogue’ is vibraphone master Bobby Hutcherson’s first release as a leader, and it’s quite a statement. ‘Dialogue’ was a bold step forward into the “new thing,” and shares quite a bit of musical DNA with several other projects Hutch had been a participant in, including Andrew Hill’s ‘Point of Departure,’ Jackie McLean’s ‘One Step Beyond’ and Eric Dolphy’s ‘Out to Lunch.’ While not quite as edgy as the latter, enjoyment of ‘Dialogue’ requires an advanced sense of adventure and an appreciation for coloring outside the lines. Hutch pulled together compatriots from some of those aforementioned outside/inside records including Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Andrew Hill (piano), Richard Davis (bass), Sam Rivers (tenor/soprano sax, bass clarinet, flute) and a key musical partner who’d remain in his orbit for many future albums, Joe Chambers (drums). While Hutch is credited as the leader, all of the writing is done by either Hill (four tracks) or Chambers (two tracks), and in a sense, it’s probably Hill who deserves co-leader billing here. That said, it’s tough to call out any specific player as the brilliance here is the conversation between them, and the insanely creative use of instrumentation to invoke moods. This is a challenging, cerebral record that moves from beautiful (“Idle While”) to unsettling (“Dialogue”); and from the zany, Avant-leaning “Les Noirs Marchant” (which could be the soundtrack to the Ents marching on Orthanc) to the demented blues of “Ghetto Lights.” So…chamber hard-bop? Avant modal blues? I can’t say this record “defies categorization,” but it does cover a LOT of ground. Everyone should hear it, but it’s not *FOR* everyone. Why it’s so difficult to find on vinyl is a real head-scratcher…here’s hoping someone @bluenoterecords gets the memo on this classic and puts it back in print soon

Andrew Hill ‘Smokestack’

This is one of the toughest Andrew Hill records to get your head around. Many of the compositions feel like Hill’s stream of consciousness—ideas, thoughts and emotions are on full display without traditional structures or tonal centers. Some of these resolve into beautiful melodic fragments, but those moments are fleeting. It’s what fascinates and frustrates me about ’Smokestack’—sometimes my listening experience is that of pleasant surprise, while other times I feel like he’s just gotten an idea developed into something interesting and tuneful, and then killed it off prematurely before it had a chance to really take flight. But it’s impossible to know Hill’s mind, and the fact that I keep coming back to it even after an unsatisfying listening session must say something. It’s certainly compelling even it if isn’t always easy to listen to. It’s not exactly free jazz, but it’s not a toe-tapper of a hard bop session either. The presence of TWO bassists is an interesting choice. Richard Davis Is in a role I’d describe as “lead bass” while Eddie Khan is bassist in a more traditional rhythmic sense. So Hill and Davis are on the frontline while Khan and drummer Roy Haynes hold down the pulse (or what passes for pulse in these compositions where the time signatures likely read “perpetual change”). This is most starkly on display in “Wailing Wall” where Davis goes arco and his bowed lead lines do in fact wail in a way that borders on the unsettling, while Khan holds that low end down fiercely. As a counterpoint, “Verne” which Hill composed for his wife is a beautiful ballad that one might expect to hear on a more traditional jazz piano trio record. This was Hill’s second session for Blue Note, recorded this date in 1963, though held for release until 1966. Challenging music. Not for the squeamish

Booker Ervin ‘The Freedom Book’

“A Lunar Tune,” which kicks off this record—the first of tenorist Booker Ervin’s terrific “Book” series—embodies the essence of Booker Ervin’s work as a leader: if you want predictability, you’ve come to the wrong place. This quartet hangs together marvelously, though when I listen closely, I also hear them as a double duo—bassist Richard Davis and drummer Alan Dawson are tightly locked in a rhythmic articulation that dares Ervin and pianist Jaki Byard to prove themselves. Challenge accepted: as both were Mingus veterans, they were no strangers to finding a pathway no matter how uppity the rhythm section was, or creating one if necessary. There are also times such as during “Al’s In” where you’re certain that everybody is in search of the “1”, but deep listening reveals the truth—these guys are messing with us and playing a shell game of “hide the 1”. They know EXACTLY where they are! Though the balance of the record tips towards the energetic and uptempo, versatility is on the menu too. Look no further than “A Day to Mourn” (dedicated to the late President JFK) to hear how deeply and heartfelt this quartet/double duo can execute a ballad. A giant of a record, and a must-own (along with “The Space Book” which believe it or not is even BETTER and more exploratory). This pressing is a 2016 Analogue Productions 200gram stereo reissue of a session originally recorded on this day in 1963. Marvelous

Eric Dolphy Quintet At The Five Spot

The roar of this quintet may not be for everyone, though I do recommend that everyone hear it. I was initially intimidated by ‘At the Five Spot’, concerned it would be a challenging listen. My concerns quickly evaporated. Yes, there are moments that go out to lunch as these are all players who are comfortable (and some forged a reputation upon) playing “outside”. Yet while this live session—the final and sole night to be recorded of their two week residency at the Five Spot—is often advanced, it’s quite accessible. That said, the heart wants what the heart wants, and the scope and velocity at which ideas spring from these men occasionally push past traditional notions of harmony, time and structure. Never for long, and not in a way that’s abrasive. More like watching five magicians showing sleight-of-hand card tricks when you thought you’d seen them all—most are impressive, many of them delightful, and some downright jaw-dropping. So I like this record more with each play—always a good sign. Booker Little (trumpet) would be dead at age 23 three months after this was recorded—a tragic end to an extraordinary player. Drummer Ed Blackwell is crisp, sure-footed (handed?) and nimble—never overplaying, never underplaying. Pianist Mal Waldron and bassist Richard Davis are heroes of the night. On first listen they don’t seem to be front and center, but pay attention…they’re actually the heart and soul of everything. It’s with these incredible musicians that Dolphy’s inner Khaleesi utters “Dracarys!”, and whether he’s on alto sax or bass clarinet, the fiery torrents of creativity that emerge are tales of the unexpected—at times curious, at others unsettling, occasionally aggressive, and sometimes otherworldly. When he gets on a roll and starts coloring outside the lines, it feels like a journey skywards and inwards at the same time. Not for the timid, but worth it for those with an advanced sense of adventure

Andrew Hill ‘Black Fire’

When @bluenoterecords announced the “Tone Poet” series as part of their 80th Anniversary celebration, there were two titles I was most excited about. Sam Rivers ‘Countours’, and this album, Andrew Hill’s ‘Black Fire’. It was Hill’s debut as a leader on Blue Note and the start of an extraordinary run that would span 13 albums over the next six years. Hill’s partners for this session are bassist Richard Davis, tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson and drummer Roy Haynes. Collaborating with Richard Davis would be come a recurring theme for Hill, resulting in some of his most successful sessions. Roy Haynes struts with an agile confidence that gives Davis ample room to explore and find elusive grooves, while tenor sax monster Joe Henderson is…well, monstrous. Killer playing all around. The music is spellbinding—Hill has his own rule book about harmony and time, bending both to his will as needed to work within the constructs of his music, some of which is like looking at an MC Escher sketch. The geometry seems skewed until you allow yourself to see it from another perspective, then it blows your reality apart, and makes sense in a really compelling way. Hill composed every track on the record, and the quartet takes hold of each one like it’s an enormous, restless anaconda. Not a grouchy one—there’s not really much aggression here. It’s more like the music is relentlessly exploring its enclosure, testing to see if the boundaries are *REALLY* boundaries or if there’s somewhere else to go. Someplace further. The journey is the prize here. Five stars and two thumbs up to the Joe Harley and the entire Tone Poet team for a terrific job on this. Superb record and outstanding job on the reissue—best this record has EVER sounded. Well done team Tone Poet! 10 stars out of 5

Kenny Dorham ‘Trompeta Toccata’

A stone cold classic among Kenny Dorham’s many stone cold classics! Joe Henderson is a superb sparring partner—his tenor bite is the ideal foil to Dorham’s trumpet bark (albeit an often sweet bark). Henderson also contributes the tune “Mamacita” which is hellagroovy. This session was recorded 14 Sept 1964 and produced four lengthy tracks, all infused with Latino and/or classical sensibilities. This is consistent with one of Dorham’s many strengths—he could remain rooted enough in tradition while simultaneously exploring new musical territory. As new vistas in jazz were leading to experimentations in song structure, world music influences and harmonic constructs, he was more than skilled in ratcheting up the compositional complexity, and building a band capable of executing the ideas. The linchpin in this lineup is bassist Richard Davis, whom Dorham and Henderson had played with several months earlier on Andrew Hill’s experimental post-bop classic ‘Point of Departure’ and Joe Henderson’s adventurous ‘In n Out’. Together, they inject ‘Trompeta Toccata’ with a bevy of toe-tapping complexity, and it’s simply marvelous. Sadly, this was to be Dorham’s final session as a leader, his activities winding down to sideman work over the following years until succumbing to kidney disease in 1972. I don’t mean to neglect the contributions of pianist Tommy Flanagan who contributes some fine solos, nor drummer Albert Heath though they are somewhat overshadowed by the aforementioned triple threat of Dorham/Henderson/Davis. This is a 1985 Japanese reissue Blue Note ‎– BNJ-71074/BST 84181