Lowell Davidson/Richard Poole

Rediscovered Session of 1988
Music Artist Company No #

Booklet notes by Ken Waxman

A unique stylist whose single 1965 ESP-Disk portended new vistas for jazz piano, Lowell Davidson (1941-1990) has long been a music legend whose disc with drummer Milford Graves and bassist Gary Peacock was regarded as a brilliant one-off effort. Now, nearly a quarter century after his death, another example of his piano playing plus other musical talents is finally available. Its appearance is the culmination of a series of events which initially led vibraphonist/pianist/drummer Richard Poole, the session’s other featured performer, to record with Davidson in 1988.

Poole, 64, who lives near Boston, is an all-around musician who during the course of his career has worked with such disparate performers as pianist Paul Bley, multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan plus the likes of singer Robert Goulet and comedian Jackie Gleason. At the time of these professionally recorded sessions, Davidson who was reportedly involved with drug experimentation and had brushes with mental illness earlier on, was a constant, if erratic, presence in Massachusetts clubs of that era. Having seen the pianist play at Summerville’s jazz club The Willow, Poole decided then and there to record with him. “I like adventure”, he recalls.

By that time the pianist had developed his own musical notation, using colored notes, smears, blobs and lines to represent lines and cleft marks, but what happened in the studio that day in June was mostly spontaneous invention. Poole, who had never met Davidson before hearing him play, simply showed up at his residence and arranged to drive him to the date a few days later. When they arrived, the pianist, who Poole remembers as talking incessantly at all times, unexpectedly decided to sing and play flute on some of the tracks as well as demonstrate his keyboard skills.

A consummate professional, Poole ably used kinetic mallet bounces on tunes such as “7th Avenue” to help corral the squealing flute peeps into coherent improvising when they appeared. However the singing involved other challenges. Hollering and harmonizing with different vocal inflections, Davidson’s verbalizations ranged from stream-of-consciousness to near-vaudevillian, as when he incorporates a phrase from “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” into “Walking in the Game” or approaches old-timey yodeling on “Hope You Come in Soon”. Despite the title appeal on the latter piece, Poole stays very much out of Davidson’s way, and soon the pianist is weaving keyboard mosaics. After threatening to turn into a stride piano showcase, the latter tune ends up becoming a primitivist blues. Meanwhile Davidson’s solo on “Walking in the Game” soon replaces jagged with melodic lines as distinctive clatters arise from the piano’s depths.

The pianist, who reportedly studied biochemistry at Harvard before being encouraged to record by Ornette Coleman, is apparently also more in control than he let on. It may sound as if he’s spouting gibberish on “I’ve got coffee for you Tory”, but he’s actually mocking Poole’s ancestors who were Canadian immigrants. And that track is another where Davidson’s piano prowess is on full display. Starting off with some squirming and skippy notes that seem to derive from Thelonious Monk, he slides down to showy glissandi, producing unique note placement by the climax. Other instances of his skill come on “Thin Ice” where ruminative hesitancy gives way to obvious joy in soundboard ringing; and on “Lowell plays Lowell” as a hunt-and-peck formula gathers strength, turning into a tempo-challenging display of coherent linearity. Not that Poole is left behind either. On “I Feel Snorky” for instance, bursts of discordant keyboard clatters are doubled with clanking vibe variations.

The vibraphonist now concedes that Davidson eventually “took over the session and later he smoked me. I’ve played with hundreds and hundreds of musicians in my career but there was only one guy in his category, and that was Lowell.” Ruminating after all these years, Poole adds that even during their most intense interaction, “Lowell was there, but also not there in some way”.

It was this psychological distance that may have accounted for the belated release of this disc. Busy, the vibraphonist initially didn’t return Davidson’s phone call when he asked for a copy of the completed session. A few days later Davidson left a message stating that he didn’t need the recording as Ornette Coleman also wanted to record him; a fanciful claim that can’t be verified.

Involved with other projects Poole admits that “the tape reels sat on a shelf for 24 years until I transferred them to disc and I started listening.” He was impressed once again, with the result this historically important and musically challenging CD.

Ken Waxman (www.jazzword.com) Toronto, June 2013