A potent alchemy of texture and rhythm akin to ‘My Life in the Bush of Ghosts’ or early Material albums.
During the spring of 1984 in a semi-rural Connecticut basement dubbed NoNo Studios within a homestead called Red House, guitarist Myles Davis and percussionist Ray Herrmann set to work on a collaborative album they later titled Hybrid Vigor. The influential New York label RVNG Intl., responsible for releasing or reissuing lesser known masterpieces by artists including Craig Leon, Ka Baird, Pauline Anna Strom, Kate NV, and Visible Cloaks, just reissued it and kindly sent us a few deadstock copies available here. It’s a singularly mesmerizing recording.
Davis and Herrmann met a half-decade prior in Stamford, where both were involved in manufacturing loafers, platforms, and stilettos for the mall shoe store chain Nine West. Musicians at heart, they connected over a shared love of jazz, and an equal ambivalence for vocalists, during a moment when the music was co-mingling and interacting with post-disco, new wave, dub, and experimental beat music.
Both were teenagers — Davis was a Stamford native and Herrmann grew up in Lexington, Kentucky — in the late 1960s during the rise of fusion, jazz rock, minimalism and soul jazz. Herrmann studied percussion at Wesleyan University with brilliant drummer-turned-teacher Ed Blackwell, best known for his work with Ornette Coleman.
Nine West paychecks were a pittance, but what Davis and Herrmann lacked in funding they made up for ingenuity. In the years between 1980 and 1984 they invested in quality studio gear — a Tascam tape recorder, Ramsa mixing board, Sequential Circuits Prophet 600, and time-tested Neumann and AKG mics, among other stuff — so they could lasso and lay onto a Sony Superscope Sterecorder the music they were creating.
Davis these days describes it in release notes as “a very special time, following our instincts, learning as we went along.”
Characterizing it as “the sound of two guys having fun and not giving a shit about what anyone else thought about it,” his musical partner Herrmann recalled the period being spent “just loving and supporting each other musically in the moment.”
They released it that September. Not that many noticed. So many didn’t notice, in fact, that in addition to a newly remastered pressing, RVNG is also selling original, long-dormant unsealed copies of Hybrid Vigor.
Drop the needle on the record and open your ears. “Story Time” sounds as sample-able as Liquid Liquid’s classic singles, but mixed with a melodic sensibility that suggests Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s mid-tempo excursions. Other tracks draw on the David Byrne and Brian Eno collaborations that birthed Talking Heads’ Remain in Light and the pair’s sample-heavy record My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. RVNG rightly name-checks Sly & Robbie, Laurie Anderson, Material, and King Sunny Ade as kindred spirits. It’s easy to imagine this record coming out on the Eno-affiliated label Editions EG.
The two tracks that extend beyond the 7-minute mark, album closers “Before We Say Goodnight” and “Shadow of a Doubt, are the kind of pieces that you can put on loop at 2 a.m. and let the wooziness carry you away: bass driven hypnotisms punctuated with Davis’ inventive guitar lines and Herrmann’s oblong, dubby approach to percussion.
RVNG’s release notes explain that a few pieces were constructed in a single night of improvised exploration, which Davis then sprinkled with magical NoNo overdubs. By then he’d stopped worrying about cobbling together shoes for Nine West and was able to devote his days to embroidering the album with texture. That the notes don’t say which tracks were improvised adds a level intrigue: which of these complicated works were created this way? Where are the original tapes? Is there more?