Release date: August 5, 2022
Myles Davis and Ray Herrmann’s Hybrid Vigor is a privately pressed album from 1984 documenting an enterprising spirit that appears once in a lifetime; when the young, learning mind is open to influence and creative exchange but unencumbered by the boundaries of expectation and success. An album that sits comfortably, and confidently, among other important outliers of its time, Hybrid Vigor is reintroduced, relevant and vital in all new ways.
Just at the turn of the 70s, Myles and Ray met working at a Nine West women’s shoe manufacturer in Stamford, Connecticut at the respective ages of 25 and 26. Ray grew up in Stamford, and Myles ended up there to join a band after moving from Lexington, Kentucky to attend Manhattanville College. Once their secret musician identities surfaced at the 9-to-5, the two bonded over their backgrounds in jazz (Myles was mostly a self-taught guitarist, and Ray had studied drums and percussion with Ed Blackwell and Clifford Jarvis at Wesleyan) and in quick order found themselves in a basement searching for the almighty groove.
The basement was located in an old farmhouse on a once rural stretch of Route 7 in Norwalk, Connecticut, and would serve as the nerve center for Myles and Ray’s collaboration for years to come. Committed to converting the subterranean space into a haven free from irksome bandmates and neighborly scorn of loud music, Myles and Ray dug out layer after layer of dirt from the floor, built a control room, drove to New York City to buy a Ramsa board and Tascam 80-8 tape machine, and began corresponding through a network of studio owners in the UK to assemble an arsenal of affordably sourced, top shelf Neumann and AKG microphones.
In the years that it took to make sense of the space and accumulation of gear, and for the basement to officially, efficiently evolve into NoNo Studios (roughly, ‘81 – ‘83), Myles and Ray continued to craft and play, often documenting their improvisations on a Sony Superscope Sterecorder with just a pair of mics to pick up the duo’s musical maneuvering. Myles’ guitar playing, alternating between atmospheric and anthemic, found its foil in Ray’s animated polyrhythms and jazzy accents and anchor points. The duo concurrently incorporated sounds from FM radio’s fringes in their explorations, with traces of Talking Heads and Peter Gabriel crisscrossing with James Brown and Chic, making for an exceptionally visual, if not lyrical, experience.
When the last bay had been patched, and the 1” tape was ready to roll, Myles and Ray began officially tracking the music that would become Hybrid Vigor in the March of 1984. Myles brought in the skeleton for a few songs, and more importantly, the duo had an unquestionable chemistry that would provide the album’s foundation. Several of the album’s pieces were improvised in a single night, and then studiously embellished with overdubs by Myles, who had quit his job at the shoe manufacturer to dedicate his time to the album. Consciously filling in just the right amount of space with melodic and ambient gestures from a Sequential Circuits Prophet 600 and accompanying guitar, bass, and percussion overdubs, the character of Hybrid Vigor made a small Connecticut basement a wide, colorful stage.
If you drop the needle on song one, side one of Hybrid Vigor, you might mistake Myles and Ray as another young band vying for a place in the post-AOR / New Wave landscape of the early 80s. The grooves further in reveal the further out qualities of Myles and Ray’s collaboration; a potent alchemy of texture and rhythm akin to David Byrne and Brian Eno’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts or early Material albums, infectious, backbone dub reggae in the tradition of Sly & Robbie, and worldly / otherworldly exploration from King Sunny Adé to Laurie Anderson. And while their influences show, it’s the hybridization of Myles and Ray’s musical identities and capabilities that outshine.
Myles and Ray took the quarter inch mixes of the eight tracks they’d invested not only their savings but their very heart and soul to legendary engineer Tom Coyne at Frankford/Wayne to master. The album was pressed on audiophile vinyl from Europadisk, and Myles designed the album cover loosely based on the makings of a WWII P-51 Mustang aircraft. Hybrid Vigor was released in September 1984 on Red House Records, Myles and Ray’s own imprint named after the house under which their music, and magic, was made. The records didn’t travel too much further from the basement, but did pick up some great college radio play. That Hybrid Vigor had even materialized was good enough for Myles and Ray, and a personal testament to the potential of collaboration.
“It was a very special time, following our instincts, learning as we went along,” says Myles. “The sound of two guys having fun and not giving a shit about what anyone else thought about it,” adds Ray. “Just loving and supporting each other musically in the moment.”
Having discovered Hybrid Vigor through the great virtual record crate that is the internet, and under Myles and Ray’s guidance, RVNG is reactivating the remaining original LP stock alongside a newly remastered version of album and After the Party: Sketches and More from the Basement Floor, 1981 – 1983, a document of Myles and Ray’s improvisational recordings, selected and sequenced by Tristan Whitehill, aka Euglossine.