Wednesday, January 8, 2014

This is a house; these are the rooms

Once I thought Astral Weeks was a long and twisting road, an album that wasn't concerned so much with its starting and ending points, but the lengthy and extraordinary distance its listeners traversed. Lately, I think Astral Weeks is more like a house. You enter a room and stay there for a bit and explore how you like; you sit and stand, amble back and forth, touch the walls and furnishings, maybe stretch out on the hardwood floor. There are seven rooms in this house, each one occupied by one of the seven musicians who made significant contributions on Astral Weeks. I want to spend the next month or so moving from room to room, spending time with the musicians residing within each one, acquainting myself with the work these individuals did prior to Astral Weeks, as well as any material cut around the time of the album's 1968 release.

Above is Richard Davis' "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise," which was on 1970's Muses for Richard Davis. Davis' performance on the double bass is whirring and ferocious yet unceasingly disciplined—like a boxer working a speed bag. He has extraordinary range: His playing is both authoritative and understated. No matter what the approach, you are continuously aware of his presence. He's a genuine frontman, even when playing it out from the back. This same style, form, and authority helped give Astral Weeks its transcendent edge.

Roughly 30 seconds into his solo on "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise," Davis goes silent for a few heartbeats, almost like he's coming up for air before diving back down into the music. Use this short pause to catch your breath.

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