Richard Davis – Muses for Richard Davis MPS MPS 15021 (1970)
Richard Davis is best known as a “sideman”, because he has been somewhat reluctant to lead groups on his own. But he was capable of great things as a leader, and his Muses for Richard Davis is really a surprisingly good album. A big asset is the variety of settings in which Davis is placed. There are songs performed as duos (in two different configurations), a trio, a quintet and a septet. Most of the personnel are alumni from the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise” provides an extended Davis solo with a number of his trademark techniques, like playing double stops and adding a slowly varying microtonal interval between the strings he plays on his bass. “Milktrain” and “Toe Tailed Moon” both feature tight horn arrangements that recall Oliver Nelson or George Russell. The ballad “A Child Is Born” is a vehicle for some superb playing by Roland Hanna, who is in top form throughout the set. The crown jewel of the album though is the title track, a duet between Davis and Freddie Hubbard, with Hubbard playing with a Harmon mute. It is a mysterious and enchanting song, written by Hanna, with Davis utilizing his bow. At the time the song might have seemed out of place, or a mere third-stream oddity, but in hindsight can be recognized as something decades ahead of its time. Aside from the title track, the rest of the album has a mellow attitude, casual almost. Davis brings a rather ambiguous sense of traditional decorum and modern adventurousness to the proceedings. And there is never a dull moment. Definitely among Davis’ best.