Blastitude 9
issue 9  august/september 3001
page 8


Davidson is an obscure and under-recorded pianist from Boston who lived from 1941 to 1990. Despite the fact that he played music more or less all his life, this album, originally recorded for ESP-Disk in 1965 (while Davidson was "a graduate student in biochemistry at Harvard"), is his only available release. There should be more, that's for sure, but never fear, there's more than enough cool languid sound to sink into on this trio session. The rhythm section alone is enticing, Gary Peacock in his Spiritual Unity prime on bass and the always-notable Milford Graves on drums, but Davidson adds a fine new wrinkle onto these relatively known qualities. He's a 'free jazz' pianist, sure, but there's much here to set him apart from Cecil Taylor, which, let's face it, is really the number one challenge that any free jazz pianist must overcome: "Okay, you can play, but what makes you different than Cecil?"
       One thing that's different is that there's no movements. Cecil Taylor is always described as a 'classically' influenced musician -- Bartok, Webern, Stravinsky - and one thing he does borrow from classical music is the concept of movements - the opening movement, the closing movement, the reflective movement, the Sturm und Drang movement, etc. Lowell Davidson's music doesn't really have movements, it just sort of moves. The five tracks are very difficult to discern from one another - no obvious heads jump out at the listener. The band-members use the resultant space and laid-back pace to scatter notes like pebbles of soil, tossing them rhythmically onto the ground at their feet so that by the end of the album the metaphor has grown into a sand castle or an anthill or a forest or a quiet city neighborhood or some other quietly impressive phenomenon from nature or society.
        And, Davidson reminds me as much of Bud Powell as he does Taylor. He has the same sort of airy scatter of high-register 'partials,' which I take to mean notes that are close together, only half-steps apart, creating a dense harmony, 'chromaticisms,' 'tone clusters,' except played with the nimble post-blues phrasing of bebop rather than the stiff-armed piano concrete of Cowell, Schoenberg, Cage (y'know, guys who weren't jazz). Lowell Davidson is like a bridge between Powell and Taylor; his music is more 'out' than Bud's, but less frenzied, more laid-back, than Cecil's. The end result is something more quietly mesmerizing than it is aggressive and cathartic.
       Okay, in closing I've gotta quote at length from the liner notes that Boston guitarist Joe Morris, who knew Davidson personally, wrote for his album Antennae. (These notes are reproduced at http://www.aumfidelity.
com/ aum004.html
.) : "This set of pieces was originally named The Green Book. Inspired by a collection of visual graphic aids by that name created by the late composer/improviser/pianist Lowell Davidson... Lowell's Green Book was intended to be used as a guide for improvisation. It consisted of a set of color Xerox images made by the copier running on it's own without source material. The results were dense blotches of random pattern and color. Lowell considered the Green Book to be one of his most advanced devices to be used to steer himself and his players. Others included index cards with different sizes of notes (these were similar to the work of other composers from the 50s and 60s) and his invented staves which were intended to isolate certain musical zones and sounds. He also notated on materials other than paper and used methods of notating such as making holes in aluminum foil and placing it in front of a light bulb. Lowell said that by looking at the foil you could imprint the pattern of light on your synapses and then transfer the pattern to your instrument. In one of Lowell's most extreme experiments, he stared into a high wattage chrome coated light bulb every day for what he claimed was three years -- I didn't know him at that time."
       Morris also writes liner notes for this ESP reissue, and again relates the above foil/bulb technique, as well as another great anecdote: Once upon a time he and Lowell Davidson were looking at the Green Book, had it open to a certain page, and Davidson pointed to one small corner of a particular image and says "if we work hard for six years, we might be able to play that."

Theo Parrish is Sound Signature. Bought it on a whim due to a Forced Exposure rave. This alb's interesting in that it actually sounds like 'garage techno.' I don't mean the 'garage' you've been reading about in all the post-rave glossies on the Borders newstand and in the Simon Reynolds articles in The Wire (pronounced "GARE-age" all UK-like), I'm talking about good old American garage rock, the stuff that young punks from San Jose to Albany played in their garages back in the Sixties after the British Invasion blew up and drugs were starting to enter the picture.
      But please don't think I'm trying to compare Theo Parrish to the Standells. This album sounds more or less like techno music, and it sounds like it was recorded in the 90s, it's just that the production doesn't have that crystal-clear 'IDM' sheen/sparkle/'presence' that stuff you hear on Warp Records and at clubs and on MTV has. Parrish's version of techno is more murky, and it has some live instruments, and the rhythms are danceable but dragged down, like Fela Kuti on low batteries. It sounds like it was literally made in a garage (or an apartment), that's all.
      The first track, "So Now What" is kind of herky-jerky and offputting, but it's interesting (especially with that 'lo-fi' vibe) - it's more like a fanfare than a trance number, but by track three, "Serengeti Echoes," an extremely laid-back 12-minute trance/house number built around funky chopped-up loops of soul vocals, the album starts to really kick in. On track six, "Summertime Is Here," laid-back intermittent soul vocals by LaKecia Hughes, as well as soft-focus saxophone/trumpet modalities (by Jason Shearer and John Douglas resp.) have further given the mix some appealing fuzz. Towards the end of the track LaKecia is joined by smooth male vocals (gotta be Parrish himself) that sound like they're coming from the same smoky reverb tunnel that George Clinton was encased inside for the recording of the first three Funkadelic albums. The twin vocals create a sort of climax, but when they drop out the electro-beat keeps percolating, sounding more and more herky-jerky…by the time LaKecia re-enters with deep soul improvisations, the track is up around the nine-minute mark. It's trippy.
       Adding to the 'made in the apartment' feel is the graphics on the disc. They're complex and colorful, but the typesetting looks kinda fuzzy, like the covers were printed somewhat cheaply...but, like Parrish's music, it's not readily apparent whether the smudginess is an unintended byproduct of a low budget, or an intentional aspect of an appealingly hazy aesthetic.
        P.S. Another 'new electronic' record I bought due to an FE rave was Schlammpeitzeiger. I just don't like it very much. It sounds so much like an intentional Cluster imitation (specifically 'pretty era' Cluster, like on Zuckerzeit and Soweisoso) that it doesn't matter to me whether it's good or not. Very well-recorded and almost completely friendly-sounding, I'm sure this would be quite pleasing to someone who's never heard Cluster. I wish there was something in the music that could make me hear it on those terms, but there's not.

X27: Product CD-R (self-released)
Saw 'em live at the Empty Bottle and liked 'em, was inspired to buy this CD-R EP. Heavy no-wave blues chug might sound like a been-there done-that genre but it doesn't matter when it's fucking good. And X27 is. The primal blues chug of [track one] is even heavier than at their show. The fat bass guitar and thudding tom-tom beats literally combine into one trance-tone. The guitar yowls and surls over the top. Vocals do not detract. The CD-R EP is six minutes long but there are six songs or so. Still feels like an album. Recommended.


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