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The Bassist by Richard Davis

The center photograph of Richard Davis inside the liner notes tells it all: It makes him appear as if he’s meditating while his fingers lie on the strings. The bass, obviously well used and thickly lacquered, appears as an instrument of reflection, as if Davis is ready to allow the bass itself to release its music.

The Bassist brings back to the public’s attention one of jazz’s finest bassists--and one whose classical virtuosity complements his technique when he crosses over into gospel or jazz. Even though Davis says that the repertoire of The Bassist is a smattering of songs that interest him, the spiritual feeling within most of them makes clear that his interest is the communication of an elevated state to his audience. Lest that fact be ignored, he starts The Bassist with Duke Ellington’s "Come Sunday" and "Warm Valley" medley, recalling the power of Mahalia Jackson’s voice when she sang it with the orchestra. On this recording, though, a lower and quieter voice sings the tune, that of Davis’ bass. The striking aspect of his musicianship from that first medley is Davis’ remarkable bowing technique, which is seldom heard from other bassists to the extent that Davis plays it on this CD.

Davis’ intent seems to be the presentation of the bass as a melodic instrument in the same league with the cello or even the violin. And his concentration on attaining exact pitch on such a difficult instrument while he employs appropriate and yet explorative techniques (like downward swoops or upper-register evocation) positions Davis not only as one of jazz’s finest bassist but also as one of its most distinctive. Using a deep, expressive sound, Davis abandons the bow only when Hicks is in the lead, as on "Skylark." Even on that song, Hicks’ left-hand quarter-note chords parallel Davis’ walking bass lines for a unity of concept and execution. On Charlie Parker’s "Little Benny" as well, Hicks and Davis (in arco) play the quick bop lines in unison before they break out into the middle-of-the-track solos.

Hicks is well matched for Davis’ musical excellence. Hicks comps lightly as Davis improvises on "Little Benny," and yet on "Estaté," Hicks ever so respectfully takes the harmonic lead as the internal movement of the chords deepen the meaning of the tune.

Davis was going to ignore his orchestral experience until the record producer, Susumu Morikawa, asked Davis to perform "Eccles Sonata," which classical bassists include in their repertoire. Still, Davis tweaks the written form of the sonata to some extent by reharmonizing the introduction. The next track begins with Davis’ burly and forthright playing of "The Lord’s Prayer" as the lead-in to "Lift Every Voice And Sing." Hicks’ heavy gospel sounds carry over into "Go Down Moses," which Davis starts with a buoyant slide form the dominant to tonic, surprising the listener by fingering the strings to bring out the melody, making the piece more percussive than the others.

"C.C. Rider" is a curiosity because one wonders how Davis would interpret this popular but historic blues. It turns out that Hicks carries the rhythm with a Memphis blues vamp while Davis plays the melody in arco, sliding between pitches or slipping up several octaves.

Like Milt Hinton, Richard Davis has played in numerous situations as the occasions arose, including with Manhattan Transfer, Gunther Schuller, Eric Dolphy, John Lennon, Leopold Stokowski, Stan Getz, Sarah Vaughan, Pierre Boulez and Bruce Springsteen. And like Milt Hinton, Davis’ workman-like attitude, his prolific output and his modesty combine to make him one of jazz’s leading, and at the same time, one of its under-recognized, bassists. The Bassist should correct any oversights and convince listeners that Davis possesses a unique talent that sets a standard for other bassists.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Richard Davis
  • CD Title: The Bassist
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2001
  • Record Label: Palmetto
  • Tracks: Come Sunday/Warm Valley, Simone, Estaté, A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing, Eccles Sonata, Lift Every Voice And Sing, Go Down Moses, Little Benny, Skylark, C.C. Rider
  • Musicians: Richard Davis, bass, vocal; John Hicks, piano
  • Rating: Five Stars
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