Selection: Minor Mind (Walter Davis)
Donald Byrd (trumpet) Jackie McLean (alto sax) Walter Davis Jr. (piano) Sam Jones (bass) Art Taylor (drums) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, August 2, 1959
Artist of Note – Walter Davis Jr: “Davis was known as an interpreter of the music of Bud Powell, but also capturing the compositional and piano style of Thelonious Monk, combining traditional harmonies with modal patterns and featuring numerous rhythmic shifts along with internal melodic motifs within operatic, aria-like sweeping melodies” (Wiki:) His compositional strengths are also noted. For pianist comparisons, I hear a little Freddie Redd, who has a similar ability to wring dry the tremulous potential of a melodic line, he’s bouncing all on the curve.
Davis Cup was his 1959 debut album for Blue Note, an album of Davis original compositions and his first session as a leader, but with no follow-up title, his future destined to be pianist of choice of many other artists, notably including Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (Roots & Herbs) Donald Byrd (Byrd in Hand) Jackie McLean (Let Freedom Ring) and many others.
Davis retired from music in the 1960s to work as a tailor, painter and designer. After a decade-long career break, in the late ’70s, he started recording again, initially for a short-lived Italian jazz record label, Palcoscenico (trans: Stage) Records, and in the eighties for New York independent Mapleshade Records. Among his final recordings before his death that year was Jazznost: Moscow-Washington Jazz Summit (1990) – allegedly in collusion, with Russians!
Byrd and McLean offer a strong brass line up for this straight-ahead hard bop title, and McLean’s sharp tuning adds extra twist to the brass harmonies. The selection Minor Mind was described by All-Music as “darkly invigorating”, a description more often associated with a freshly stirred Manhattan. User reviewer Eric Bernier adds:
“Hard-driving, swinging bop where the rhythm section drives Byrd and McLean. Davis’s piano hangs like an eagle above the entire affair while the brasses spew golden lines from inspired bells”.
“Hangs like an eagle…” Love that. A rehearsal for Davis Cup is found on Jackie McLean’s title New Soil (BLP 4013) recorded just a few months previously, with same lineup of Byrd, McLean and Davis, with three compositions by Davis. It is worth doing the comparison, because New Soil was among the last Van Gelder recordings at Hackensack, and Davis Cup among the first recordings at Englewood Cliffs. You may hear differences!
A further track from that same May 2nd 1959 recording date found its way onto the McLean album Vertigo, issued by United Artists in its Jazz Classics series (LT1085). The Mosaic Jackie McLean Complete Blue Note Sessions, skates over earlier work, kicking off with 1964-66 coverage, his far out series.
Fellow jazz writer François at Flophouse Magazine coincidentally reviewed Davis Cup a few months back, you can check out his thoughts too.
Vinyl: BLP 4018 United Artists mono (1970-2) mono (in shrink!).
I’ve always had mixed feelings about the shrink on LP covers, but on this occasion three UA Blue Note titles came from the same collection fitted out with their original shrinks, so I decided they should stay, as part of the original historical artefact.
The Division of United Artists “classic” series doesn’t have any official recognition in Cuscuna and Ruppli’s 914 page definitive Blue Note Discography. I have dubbed it classic because it was the only use by United Artists of the classic Blue Note White and Blue label design, dropped in 1973 in favour of the all-Blue label.
Predominantly mono, only a handful stereo, this series replicated the original Blue Note jacket design, save no address on the back. The matrix merely states “UA”. I figure they are the nearest thing to the real thing, though all re-mastered by UA house engineers, I say between 1970-72, though no-one knows for sure. They sound very much like the real thing, though where I have had both for comparison, the original is stronger. I think the mono particularly desirable, and often the only affordable way in.
Borrowing a tale from my original inspiration, the very wonderful Jazzcollector site, JC without the L, an original copy came up for sale late last year, which caught the eye of JC, for his $1,000+ box:
So, a day later, all was revealed:
$1254 – a good reason not to own an original, though 43 bidders though otherwise. However $1254 was actually a bargain, only a little more than half of its maximum auction price of $2242. Top quarter of its 100 auctions history (Popsike) still tops $725:
Over at Jazzcollector the usual suspects were having a whine about inflated prices, identifying a new kind of collector:
Depressing, people who just want to have it. Don’t you just hate people like that? I figure the Division of United Artists mono reissue hailing from United Artists sidesteps this new kind of collector, who just wants to have it (the original artefact), and gives the impecunious jazz lover a fighting chance. Not that the impecunious jazz lover could necessarily afford this one, the price of these are rising too, and this was a trifle fierce. But then, I just wanted to have it.
As I am wont to say, it’s only money, and you can’t play money, I’ve tried. Put a tenner on the turntable, sounds dreadful, and a twenty not much better, even straight out the ATM, mint. So turn money into records, and stop worrying about the cost of living (it’s preferable to the cost of the alternative). You can’t take money with you, but given the number of jazz men up there, you might just get away with taking some records. RVG!