If you played bass on both Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch and Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, your legacy is going to be pretty much set. But if you’re Richard Davis, who passed away earlier this month at the age of 93, those are just two high points in a career full of lofty peaks. Davis could go as far out as necessary (he teamed up with fellow upright master Reggie Workman on Pharoah Sanders’ spiritual jazz epic “The Creator Has A Master Plan”) or add a little magic as an ace session player (did you know that he’s on Born To Run and There Goes Rhymin’ Simon?). To celebrate the bassist’s life and work, here are a handful of brilliant moments to check out. | t wilcox
Eric Dolphy + Richard Davis: “Come Sunday”: These two were a match made in heaven, as shown by this tender duo rendition of Duke Ellington’s stirring, gospel tinged “Come Sunday.” With Dolphy fluttering sweetly on bass clarinet and Davis bowing the melody, free-flowing but locked in, haunting and absolutely gorgeous.
Booker Ervin: “Bass-IX”: As its title suggests, Davis leads the way on “Bass-IX,” spurring his bandmates (including longtime Mingus pianist Jaki Byard) into some exciting territory. The bassist manages to be both rocksteady and exploratory all at once, giving everyone plenty of room to spread out over the course of a long, tasty jam.
Elvin Jones & Richard Davis: “Summertime”: The Heavy Sounds LP from 1967 places Elvin Jones and Davis in a variety of musical settings — but their version of “Summertime” features just the two of them in perfect union. Davis bows and plucks his bass beautifully, finding impressive resonances and textures in the instrument, while Jones muses mystically on his kit. Sounds don’t come much heavier.
The Richard Davis Trio (featuring Jack DeJohnette & Joe Beck): “Song For Wounded Knee”: The deliciously laid-back title track to Davis’ politically motivated 1973 trio LP with drummer Jack DeJohnette and guitarist Joe Beck is a simple blues, but these three extravagantly talented musicians manage to make it sound completely fresh.
Archie Shepp & Richard Davis: “Round About Midnight”: One more duet, this one from Body And Soul, Davis’ excellent 1991 collab with tenor sax giant Archie Shepp. Over the course of 17 blissfully moody minutes, the pair explore every nook and cranny of Monk’s classic standard, discovering at every turn new directions to take the timeworn melody in. This one goes deep.