Madlib (left) and Stanton Davis loading up the car.
Madlib (left) and Stanton Davis loading up the car.
I recently took a circuitous trip with the producer and record collector Madlib: Los Angeles to Philadelphia to New Orleans, via Manhattan. Sure, we could have flown to the from Philly to the Big Easy, but the slight detour afforded us the chance to meet — and hopefully buy records from — jazz trumpeter Stanton Davis.
Born in New Orleans and schooled by the renowned Alvin Batiste, Davis made his name in Boston after attending Berklee School of Music in the early 1970s. By '77, he had documented his burgeoning talents on a recently-discovered acetate, guested on a host of jazz, soul and soca records, and released his seminal Brighter Days album with the group Ghetto/Mysticism. I'd found a way to reissue one of Brighter Days' songs in the early '00s, and served as spokesman for the album as best I could. On a trip to Kyoto I found an original copy, which I passed to Madlib; he promptly ranked the record as one of his favorite jazz albums. This appreciation made him the perfect companion for this venture; whether we found records or not, we'd enjoy the meeting just the same.
The kiss of death for any record-canvassing mission is the well-manicured front lawn that leads to a tidy house on a tree-lined street. The records we're searching for — rare, often privately-issued and from any genre — are not normally welcome companions in an aging musician's suburban dream home.
Once he welcomed us inside and described his journey from Boston to New York to this tony section of New Jersey, he reminded me: all of his records sat in a storage unit across town. Davis — an ex-radio DJ who spent part of the early '70s chronicling and playing in the Norwegian jazz scene — had opted for preservation when his wife suggested that he discard his collection.
The drive to his storage unit was as exciting a prelude to vinyl-excavation as it could be. While Davis doubted he'd maintained a copy of his sought-after acetate, he assured us that his collection was full of obscurities, many European, and most of his records were unplayed.
He was right, of course. As we hoisted open the door to his 10'x10' cubby, we saw dozen of boxes labeled "Stanton's Records." In the first box I found a smattering of Coltrane's works alongside New England oddities that I'd never before seen. Madlib didn't recognize them either, but he had eyes for an original copy of Webster Lewis' jazz-funk monster Live At Club 7, as he had purchased a reissue, never thinking he'd stumble across the uber-rare Norwegian original.
We moved quickly, and we only selected the records that looked clean enough to carry to New Orleans. Without time to listen to our finds — and unsure as to how Davis would value his hoard — we pooled our resources and made Davis what we thought was a fair offer. He looked apprehensive at first, but he shut his eyes and slowly nodded in affirmation. He later explained that he had accepted our offer because he knew his records were going to collections where they'd be cleaned, sleeved and appreciated. He mentioned that he'd considered doing just the same in the past, but that time had gotten away from him.
We traded stories for a while before finding that we couldn't top his first-person experiences alongside the likes of Max Roach and George Russell. We acknowledged veritable "jazz-cat" status, snapped some photos and we were on our way.
Hear The Fruits Of The Mission
from Brighter Days
by Stanton Davis
The best-known song on Davis' debut LP, probably because it was the basis of — and I shudder as I type this — "nu jazz" combo Trüby Trio's song of the same name. Davis' version is infinitely more interesting and is the apex of this recently-reissued album. I asked Madlib to describe what he loved about Brighter Days. He said he, a walking jazz encyclopedia, couldn't adequately describe Davis' music — he used "discospacefunkjazz" in our conversation — and that was reason enough to love it.
I must admit, seeing Madlib pull a Webster Lewis album out of Davis' crates set off my digger's competition. I knew the chances of topping his find were slim, but maybe I would find something equally as interesting. Then this album — unGoogleable, a perfect measurement of a record's obscurity — crossed my peripheral vision. Holding the sleeve in my hands, I had a hard time imagining just what type of music might be contained within. Upon returning to Los Angeles and wiping the mold off the record's grooves, I was thrilled to find a mixture of straight-ahead, free- and soul-jazz leap from the wax. Shout outs to Robert and J.F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X introduce "Christ Place." If this song had been recorded with more than a lonely microphone, it could have stood alongside the best Prestige and Blue Note recordings from the era.
from African High Life
by Solomon Ilori
Davis' boxes were overflowing with '60s and '70s Blue Note albums. For Blue Note completists like ourselves, it was the perfect, gap-filling find. Eddie Gale's Ghetto Music? Check. All of Andrew Hill's albums? Check. The two Tony Williams albums recorded as the drummer served for Miles Davis? Of course. But the most interesting of all was this album by Solomoni Ilori. During my mid-'90s Blue Note hunts, this record never crossed my radar. A shame that it eluded me for so long as this "highlife" album features a motley crew, including legends Montego Joe (congas) and Ahmed Abdul Malik (bass) playing a medley of West African inspired, but obviously New York, jazz tunes. This song — named after Ilori's Nigerian wife — should be a jazz-dance classic.
Ellis Marsalis, Jr. is a New Orleans-born pianist who fathered a jazz dynasty. Wynton and Branford Marsalis are his most famous sons, but many of his progeny are immersed in jazz. While I will sheepishly admit I was an early '90s Buckshot Lefonque fan — lured in by Showbiz's remix of "Breakfast At Denny's" — I was never a fan of Wynton's. His Think Of One album is a recurring nightmare that I pass as quickly as possible in jazz bins. Perhaps this is because the jazz-classicist firebrand dismisses my favorite jazz era — the mid-'60s to the mid-'70s — and derides the funk. Surprising, then, that the late New Orleans drummer James Black (a jazzer by trade, but also the funk mastermind whose syncopation lead the great Eddie Bo's discography to unparalleled rhythmic heights) features prominently on the senior Marsalis' album. Wynton could have picked up a thing or two from Dad's choice sideman.
While I might have hipped Madlib to Davis' album, it was but a repayment for his introduction, by way of Steve Kuhn, to Karin Krog, the Norwegian jazz vocalist. Her Kuhn-lead album We Could Be Flying is one of my jazz-vocal favorites, so I was pleased to find a series of her Norwegian albums in Davis' crates. This psychedelic Herbie Hancock cover features Krog trading breathy embellishments with Oslo-based tenor saxophonist Jan Garbarek, who also offers an appropriately screechy solo.