03.13.2012

From the Neumann Collection: Elvin Jones and Richard Davis, Heavy Sounds

The James and Susan Neumann Jazz Collection is the largest privately owned collection of jazz materials in the United States, and possibly the world. James Neumann, proprietor of the collection and an Oberlin Alumnus, decided last year to donate all of the materials to Oberlin. So far, the school has received about 45,000 vinyl LPs along with thousands of jazz periodicals and collectibles, which does not event amount to half of the entire collection. The recordings will not be available for students for some time, which is why WOBC has decided to give followers a regular taste of the collection’s rare gems. Disclaimer: Information and music posted are sourced from WOBC copies of albums also included in the Neumann Collection.

This week’s dig from the sea of Neuman’s jazz wax is Elvin Jones and Richard Davis’ Heavy Sounds, recorded and released in 1967 on the legendary Impulse! Records. Jones, who made his name as the drummer in John Coltrane’s Quartet of the mid- to late-fifties, and bassist Davis, who recorded with names as diverse as Eric Dolphy and Bruce Springsteen, are in top form on this exemplary hard-bop session. Jones and Davis are joined by tenor saxophonist Frank Foster and pianist Billy Greene on most of the tracks.

Overall, this record swings hard and gets weird just at the right moments. You can hear serious avant-garde intentions in the playing of Jones and Davis, but their music is still deeply rooted in jazz and blues traditions.

Elvin Jones and Richard Davis: “Summertime”

The record begins with a mid-tempo latin-swing rendition of Foster’s “Raunchy Rita”. This 11-minute, blues-drenched jam immediately confirms the album’s title; Jones’ groove layers dark rhythmic textures over Davis’ low-rounded bass tone, providing a heavy background for Foster to improvise with serious force. But perhaps the heaviest moments for this record come three tracks later on a 12-minute bass-drums duo version of “Summertime”, on which Jones takes an intense, pitch-oriented drum solo. Davis colors the track with exceptional bowing and subharmonic techniques, making for a highly unusual and improvisational journey through the classic Gershwin tune. Other highlights include Jones’ delta-blues style guitar playing on “Elvin’s Guitar Blues” (his first and only recorded performance on the instrument), and Foster’s heartbreaking lyricism on the Van Heusen ballad “Here’s That Rainy Day”, a welcome relief from the weight of the preceding tracks.

-Adam Hirsch

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