Lowell Davidson Trio

We're back! With power, internet, water...the whole nine yards and it only took 2 weeks. I'll leave you with one more musical choice for now and it's one of the choicest I know. The Lowell Davidson Trio's only record recorded July 27th, 1965, their self-titled release on ESP Disc was one of my "Records To Die For" in Stereophile magazine and it features Lowell Davidson on piano, Gary Peacock on bass, and Milford Graves on percussion. While I did not study with Milford during my time at Bennington College, I saw him perform a number of times and I count these among my most intense experiences of any kind.

Davidson studied pianoforte at age 4, composition at 8, harmony at 12, organ and then piano at 15. He went on to study biochemistry at Harvard (he was there on a full scholarship) and we can thank Ornette Coleman for this record because it came about due to his persistence with ESPs founder Bernard Stollman. I’d read about this record, forgot about it, then was reminded of it in The Wire’s Invisible Jukebox which featured Joe Morris and it took me many months to find an original affordable LP.

Joe Morris knew Davidson from Boston:

“He went down and played with Milford Graves and Gary Peacock for an hour and just did that record. Then he went back to Boston, where he was the church organist at his parents’ church, and played music.”

“But near the end of his life, he got increasingly psychotic. His parents had to move out of the house [they shared]. He got involved with a crazy woman who was throwing his stuff out the window. So he moved to a place near Dudley Station and was hanging out at a homeless shelter, and got TB and never got treated for it and died. And when he died, Ornette came to his funeral. But you know, he played aluminium bass, organ and piano, and he was really brilliant and kinda scary in a way, so out there that it was a little scary to be around sometimes. Not violent, but just very intense. Very brilliant.”

“He used to talk about how music was really intended to alter the biochemistry of your brain so that people would evolve. He told me once, ‘It’s about evolution‘.”

This record is full of colors, ‘formative clusters’ as a favorite teacher used to say. A monster of a trio performance that leaves me nearly breathless (literally). Davidson’s playing is not familiar in a directly referential way yet it’s melodically and harmonically rich and always generous and inviting. I’ve never heard Milford Graves sound more part of a group and Gary Peacock is equally perplexing/inviting/stunning. This is a strange, as in not familiar, amalgam of musical stuff that adds up to one unbelievably moving experience.

You can get the Lowell Davidson Trio for €11.99 with just a few clicks right here and now in CD-quality FLAC format from Qobuz.

lionelag's picture

Joe Morris did an album about 4 years ago called MVP:LSD which contained a lot of unrecorded Lowell Davidson music.  It was really, really good.  Apparently towards the end of his life, Lowell D. came up with a whole new system of graphical notation, and taught it to the people he played with.  These were recordings of stacks of 3x5 cards written in his new notation.

There have been whispers for years that Lowell D. left Harvard and music in part because of a lab accident which permanently damaged his lungs in the late 60's and left him open for the TB which killed him.  Other than the liner notes of the ESP album and MVP:LSD, I've never seen a word about him.  I'd love to know more about him.  The guy was a genius.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Is still available from Aum Fidelity/Riti Records. I have this CD and agree - its really good.

I'd also like to know more about Lowell Davidson...

lionelag's picture

Bernard Stollman (ESP) is still alive and as far as I know, well, if 80-something, in NYC.  I wonder if he has any more info.  (ESP did reissue the disk about seven or eight years ago, which is how I came across it)