Kris Davis – Capricorn Climber (CF 268)
Relocating from her native Canada to New York City, pianist Kris Davis has infused her imposing talents into New York City’s unconventional, downtown-like scene. She once again aligns her compositional and improvisation expertise with like-minded artists, who frequently transition the jazz idiom into a boundless vista. Hence, the album projects a topsy-turvy and rather oscillating aura, featuring the musicians’ use of counterpoint, space, and emphatic exchanges. They mix it up, while also stretching themes to the hilt amid several introspective interludes that intimate a time warp of sorts.
“Big Band Ball” commences as a spooky foray, perhaps hinting at encounters from ungodly influences. Here, Davis locks in with violaist Mat Maneri and bassist Trevor Dunn’s rhythmic plucking that conjures emotive responses and opens the floodgates for drummer Tom Rainey’s lyrical rim-shots and asymmetrical tom hits. Imagery of a revolving panorama comes to fruition, heightened by saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock’s yearning lines via a loose groove, implanted with a multipart structural component. With snappy backbeats and Davis’ animated voicings, the band merges a whimsical scenario with exploratory dialogues.
Davis’ significant compositional skills are evident throughout. Moreover, she leaves quite a bit of room for invention, yet sustains a semi-structured game plan that recurrently shuns the norm, even when discussing the freer realm of jazz.
Eric Revis 11:11 – Parallax (CF 266)
Bassist Eric Revis, with his immense tone and supple sense of swing, has helped define the sound of the Branford Marsalis Quartet for over 15 years. As a leader, he’s taken an eclectic approach, starting from acoustic jazz but adding electric guitar, strings and other textures. In recent years he has embraced a freer concept, working with the likes of Peter Brötzmann, Avram Fefer and Michael Marcus. Parallax, with Ken Vandermark (tenor saxophone and clarinet), Jason Moran (piano) and Nasheet Waits (drums), leans strongly in that direction as well. (It’s pertinent that Revis, Waits and Parallax co-producer Orrin Evans are the core of the free-leaning ensemble Tar Baby.) Revis is featured on three solo tracks: the opening “Prelusion”, with frenetic bowing; “Percival”, a tight pizzicato miniature (the title is Cecil Taylor’s middle name) and the finale/title track, rich in somber overtones and washes of sound. But the main focus is the band, switching up from red-blooded ferocity (“Hyperthral”, Vandermark’s “Split”) to a subtler chamber-like aesthetic (“MXR”, “Celestial Hobo”). As much as Parallax is ‘free’, it’s also strongly compositional: Revis’ “Edgar”, a nod to fellow bassist Edgar Meyer, stands out for its repeating double-stop arco pattern and contrapuntal piano-clarinet theme emerging from chaos. “Dark Net”, an ensemble theme of daunting complexity – and no solos at all – is by Clean Feed label mate Michaël Attias (a fine move to highlight work by an underrated composer and peer).
Many don’t realize, but avant garde jazz operates from a position of deepest respect for the tradition. For Revis and certainly for Moran’s own work, the enthusiasm stretches back well before bebop. Their reading of Fats Waller’s “I’m Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” begins with the melody almost exactly as written, but against a backdrop of wild sonic abstraction. Jelly Roll Morton’s “Winin’ Boy Blues” acquires a slow, booming beat true to Morton’s own accurate description of the song: “smutty”.