INGRID LAUBROCK ANTI-HOUSE – Strong Place (Intakt)
KRIS DAVIS – Capricorn Climber (CF 268)
Ingrid Laubrock, a saxophonist, and Kris Davis, a pianist, share an aesthetic of unsettled calm and unhurried revelation. With the drummer Tyshawn Sorey they make up Paradoxical Frog, a trio that can make free improvisation feel structurally inevitable, like the logical conclusion to a far-reaching argument.
With their own bands Ms. Laubrock and Ms. Davis favor a slightly more careful arrangement of ideas, and compositions with discrete parameters. They both like chamber-group dynamics but shot through with rough texture and a vigilant avoidance of sentimentality. That they appear on each others’ new albums is no surprise. It confirms that their interaction is adaptable as well as sturdy and suggests that they haven’t begun to exhaust its potential.
Both albums — Ms. Laubrock’s “Strong Place,” released in January, and Ms. Davis’s “Capricorn Climber,” due out on March 18 — feature quintets driven by the alert and sinewy drumming of Tom Rainey, who happens to be Ms. Laubrock’s husband. Each album also includes a resident mischief maker with a melodic instrument. On “Strong Place” it’s the guitarist Mary Halvorson, and on “Capricorn Climber” it’s the violist Mat Maneri. On both albums it’s the second track, more than the first, that pulls you in.
The second track on “Strong Place” is “Der Deichgraf,” its title a nod to Ms. Laubrock’s German origins. The piece opens with a stern rumble of pianism before the ensemble gives halting chase, and then tapers off into balladic terrain without relaxing its intensity. (At one point the rhythm drops away to leave only Ms. Laubrock, circular-breathing a single note, and Ms. Halvorson, playing a wobbled-pitch version of the same.)
Ms. Laubrock’s band, Anti-House — which appears on Tuesday night at Cornelia Street Café, before embarking on a European tour — has an insistent rhythmic footprint. One track here, “From Farm Girl to Fabulous Vol. 1,” pushes the idea almost to the point of irritation, with a strobelike repetition assigned to piano and guitar.
But the ensemble, anchored by the bassist John Hébert, also has a way with drift and flow. “Cup in a Teastorm (for Henry Threadgill)” features Ms. Laubrock’s focused meanderings over a garden of exotic chords outlined by bass and guitar. “Alley Zen” revolves around a swirl of arpeggios played, with lovely impassivity, by Ms. Davis.
The second track on “Capricorn Climber” is “Pass the Magic Hat,” which begins with a fluid piano solo over an amorphously syncopated groove. Gradually Ms. Laubrock enters the picture, and into sync with a melody that briefly surges before its ebb. What follows is a solo by Mr. Maneri, slipping through the cracks between tempered pitch. The entire track is an engrossing lesson in ensemble flux, carried out with finesse.
A similar energy spills into the next track, “Trevor’s Luffa Complex,” named after the band’s bassist, Trevor Dunn, and featuring an initial melody played on glockenspiel. Several other tracks begin in hazy but thoughtful quietude, only gradually picking up heat and speed. The quieter moments aren’t necessarily more placid, since Ms. Davis is wizardly with tension. And like Ms. Laubrock, who also does some serious work on this album, she’s comfortable leaving an open-ended impression.