Classic Albums: Lowell Davidson Trio (Vinyl Reissue)

I feel like I’ve written about Lowell Davidson and his sole record, Lowell Davidson Trio released on ESP-Disk’ in 1965, way too often. Turns out, I’m wrong.

While studying biochemistry at Harvard University on a full ride in 1964, Davidson’s interest in music saw him traveling to NYC to play piano with Ornette Coleman and drums with the New York Art Quartet, substituting for Milford Graves when he was unavailable, and Paul Motian. Coleman convinced Bernard Stollman of ESP-Disk’ to give Davidson a recording date, and on July 27, 1965 the Lowell Davidson Trio laid down his one and only album in one take.

The trio consisted of Davidson on piano, Gary Peacock on bass, and Milford Graves on drums and I’ve yet to hear another 44:31 sound so intense, so other, so unclassifiable. To my mind, Lowell Davidson Trio contains that rare magic that can happen when musicians who are devoutly devoted to their instruments and ideas share their energy and passion live, producing something that sounds and feels as if it was the product of a supercollider rather than a recording studio.

As fortune would have it, Lowell Davidson Trio has just seen a vinyl reissue —a very limited (30 copies) 180-gram version that sold out before I got there, and a regular vinyl edition of 500 copies. I spent years, years, searching for an original at the right price and finally found a good copy for $95. That was years ago and it appears as if prices have since risen for an original. [footnote 1]

Davidson never put out another record in his lifetime. He experimented with graphic notation and scores made from aluminum foil riddled with pin holes and held over a light in order to “burn the shape of the music into your synapses”. Davidson struggled with mental illness and contracted tuberculosis which went untreated. He passed on 31 July, 1990 at age 48.

Musician Joe Morris was one of few people who remained close to Davidson throughout his later years. Morris shared, “He was so brilliant in the way he spoke about things; it was impossible to dismiss it as just crazy talk. Even though at first it sounded like that, over time I understood what he was talking about, and we could have conversations. He used to say it was about evolution, that if we play things we haven’t heard before, it will alter the biochemistry of the brain. He said that’s what evolution is about… I understand that what he was really trying to do was to move humans forward.”

I recommend spending the $20 + shipping for the new vinyl version of Lowell Davidson Trio. You will never hear anything like it, and if you let its magic in, you may just get to places you’ve never been.

  1. ESP-Disk’ warns: When European labels licensed this album for CDs, the sound was a bit grimy, but on the 2008 remaster, all the instruments – even bass – sound much more present, making this secret classic of avant-jazz more enjoyable than ever.