Dave Davidson of Gargoyl and Revocation is no stranger to the world of music and exploring all of its different areas. Most commonly, you can find hints of Jazz throughout his playing, as beautifully displayed on the Gargoyl self-titled debut out on Season of Mist now. As someone who actively dips his hands in both pools, we asked Dave to run down his top five albums every metalhead should know. The below words were written by Dave Davidson.
Jazz is a genre that has inspired and mystified me for almost two decades now. My first real experience with it began when I was attending high school at the Boston Arts Academy. They had a jazz program there that I enrolled in and while I knew next to nothing about the genre at the time, the allure of being able to play guitar in school as part of the curriculum was too tempting to pass up.
I was fully immersed in metal at the point, rabidly searching for new bands and delving into the underground to find hidden gems of years past. Learning about jazz for the first time during these formative years as a musician opened up a totally new world for me and while I didn’t fully grasp it at the time, there was something that really intrigued me about the music. The forms were totally different than what I was accustomed to and it was mainly driven by improvisation rather than the more classical approach that metal has but there were several aspects of the genre that immediately caught my ear. Virtuosity, creativity and a drive to push boundaries outside of the status quo seemed to be its hallmarks and those were all elements that I really enjoyed from metal at the time.
Under the guidance of some truly great teachers over the years, I’ve grown to appreciate jazz on a much deeper level now even though there’s still a mystifying quality to it that keeps me coming back after all these years. I feel strongly about discovering new music and keeping an open mind about unfamiliar genres so I was very excited when Metal Injection asked me to come up with a few jazz albums that I think might have a cross over appeal. So without further adieu and in no particular order, here’s my list of the top 5 jazz albums for metalheads.
1. Wes Montgomery – Smokin’ At The Half Note
This record was one of my first introductions to jazz so I figured what better album to start with than this classic? When I began studying under my teacher Colin Sapp at the Boston Arts Academy “Four On Six” was one of the first songs we had to learn. Back then I couldn’t read music at all and wasn’t familiar with swing rhythms but I was willing to give it my best shot because I knew it would make me a better guitar player in the long run. Hearing Wes’s playing totally inspired me but I remember being quite intimidated about learning it because I needed to get this solo tight enough to perform with several other guitarists in my class for an upcoming jazz competition. Luckily, my teacher had a lot of patience and worked with us tirelessly to get the nuances of his phrasing down. Upon delving into his music it was apparent that his lines had a deep lyricism to them, even when he was playing faster passages. The fact that he played everything with only his thumb also blew me away! I worked on that solo for hours and learned so much from studying and performing it. I still revisit that tune and am just as inspired by Wes’s genius, like all great artists his music will always be timeless.
2. Wayne Shorter -The All Seeing Eye
Wayne Shorter is a giant of jazz, not only as an improviser but as a prolific composer as well. His music is forward thinking, surprising and has a mystical quality to it that always intrigues and inspires me. “The All Seeing Eye” remains his most avant-garde record to date, it’s a cosmic concept album meant to depict the meaning of life, existence and God’s role in the universe. Song titles like “Genesis” “Face Of The Deep” and “Mephistopheles” already sound like they would fit on most death metal records and musically it’s just as intense. There’s moments of some real discomfort and dissonance on this album that keep me coming back for more, whether it’s the intro horn section on “Genesis” which tensely builds before climaxing into a fast swing section or the slow, brooding creep of “Mephistopheles” that blends a hypnotic groove with bursts of controlled chaos from the rhythm section. The title track however was my chosen offering from this album because it combines all the amazing elements from this record into one track. Everyone shines on this song, whether it be the blistering solos of Freddie Hubbard and Wayne Shorter, the driving bass lines of Ron Carter or the explosive drumming of Joe Chambers. Master pianist Herbie Hancock unleashes a final, fiery solo that continuously evolves as he interacts with the rhythm section. Carter and Chambers are completely in sync with each-other, instinctively knowing how to bring the mood down until turning up the heat once more until the final climax of this piece.
3. Pat Metheny – Question And Answer
If you want to hear some truly insane virtuosic talent look no further than Pat Metheny’s Question and Answer album which also features the dynamic duo of Roy Haynes on drums and Dave Holland on bass.This album was released in 1990 so it’s modern by jazz standards but Metheny’s playing on this album sounds like it’s from the future. I chose “All The Things You Are” from this album because it’s such a burner. The tempo consistently hovers around 300bpm for the entire song as Metheny blazes through the changes of this classic jazz tune. One thing that still draws me to jazz is the fact that the repertoire is constantly being re-invented by future generations and Metheny has a knack for really making these tunes his own. The rhythm section is on fire here as well, just listen to the dueling guitar and drum solos at the end of the piece while Dave Holland effortlessly walks the bass through the changes. This is a must listen for the all shredders out there.
4. Dave Holland Big Band – What Goes Around
I think one of the biggest misconceptions about jazz is that it’s all soft and is meant for background music at cocktail parties. I get it, I’ve played those gigs growing up. However, playing in my high school’s big band really gave me an appreciation for the fucking VOLUME that a strong horn section can deliver. The intro to “The Razor’s Edge” definitely delivers that power, with multiple layers of horns belting out jarring, angular lines. The dynamics may dip down a bit at certain sections of the song, but the intensity never let’s up with multiple rounds of soloists and some truly jaw dropping drumming from Billy Kilson (just listen to his crushing drum fill at 2:23) Bonus points for the song title sounding like it could be an album from an early 80s thrash metal band.
5. John Coltrane – Giant Steps
When I first started coming up with ideas for which artists I should include on this list, I knew Coltrane had to be on it. He’s one of my favorite musicians of any genre and his musical output is remarkable to say the least. Throughout his career he was at the forefront of several jazz genres that ran the gamut between hard bop, modal jazz and the extreme fringes of the avant-garde so choosing an album of his was no easy task. Ultimately I decided to settle on his game changing record from 1960, Giant Steps. Coltrane’s skills are on full display with his unparalleled technical abilities, tone and compositional skills. The title track was so ahead of its time that it still remains one of the most difficult jazz songs to play 60 years later. On “Countdown” Coltrane goes all out, his phrases are full of aggression and have the tone to match. His ferocious and technical lines were given the term “sheets of sound” by critics at the time in an effort to describe the blistering arpeggios and scale patterns that were densely packed into his improvisations. The fact the harmony is consistently shifting and the tempo is at an inhuman pace does nothing to slow Coltrane down, simply put he’s unstoppable on this freight train of a track.
I hope this list was informative for everyone out there that’s interested in checking out some new music. Being that I’m a guitarist I wanted to include a few more modern guitar players that are currently at the forefront of the jazz/fusion scene as a bonus. If you’d like to further explore some outstanding guitarists that are pushing the envelope of modern jazz I highly recommend listening to Adam Rogers, Gilad Hekselman, Lage Lund, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Julian Lage, Jonathan Kreisberg, Nir Felder and Ben Monder just to name a few. Each of these musicians have their own unique voice and would definitely interest any guitarist that's looking for some extra inspiration.
Hear Dave's jazz licks on Gargoyl's self-titled debut, out now on Season of Mist. Listen to it below.