Tag Archives: SKM

Chain D.L.K. review by Steve Mecca

SKM (Stephen Gauci, Michael Bisio, Kris Davis – Three (CF 189)
Rated: ****

We don’t get much in the way of jazz here at Chain D.L.K., but trio SKM (Stephen Gauci- tenor saxophone; Kris Davis ‘ piano; Michael Bisio ‘ double bass) is a free jazz collaboration with some very noteworthy moments. All have impressive credentials in the field of jazz with numerous collaborations and recordings under their belts. The big difference on ‘Three’ is the lack of drums allowing for a much freer improvisational atmosphere. In fact, all tracks are improvised, except #6 (‘Now’) by Michael Bisio.

The result of this collaboration is a wide variety of expression from track to track where although the instrumentation is obviously the same, the form is not. On ‘The End Must Always Come,’ which opens the album, Davis take the lead with a wildly rhapsodic improv that spurs on Bisio’s bass to counter from every angle. It’s almost like sparring the way the instruments dance around each other and Guaci’s sax doesn’t even enter until the 2 ½ minute point, tentatively at first, then more definitively as the piece progresses. Davis seems to get temporarily stuck in this one repetitive musical figure that has the effect of propelling Guaci’s sax all over the place. Davis later employs the same technique to actually soothe the sax and wind things down to its conclusion.

‘Like a Phantom, a Dream’ begins with a beautiful sax solo from Gauci and even when the piano and bass come in (and the sax drops out), seems almost melodically conventional. Lots of extended runs here move very quickly eventually rejoined by the sax. Davis drops out and the piece turns quite moody with just sax and bass. The moodiness is replaced by agitation for awhile, before it turns back to being moody at the end. I really kind of grooved on this one.

‘Something From Nothing’ proves that you don’t need a drummer to carry a rhythm as piano, bass and sax provide muted percussion sounds. To a large degree, it seems like an exercise in creative restraint, and things only show any sign of busting loose when the 9:36 track is two-thirds over. Still, it never quite gets out of hand, and is interesting from start to finish.

‘Groovin’ for the Hell of It’ is an oddly enigmatic piece that changes directions more times than a soccer ball on a football field. At one point when Davis starts pounding out these offbeat dissonant chords, it really seems to shake things up. It’s hard to quantify this one; when Davis gets going on another one of her repetitive cycles toward the end, she is nearly alone in her own world.

‘Still So Beautiful’ is a lovely abstract ballad that may seem loose but the playing is tightly interconnected as the instruments weave an amazing braid around each other. Bisio’s composition ‘Now’ is the most unusual piece on the album, with a mad arco technique that exhorts all manner of twisted sounds from is double bass. It hardly seemed as long as the 5:20 it is. ‘No Reason To or Not To’ is a sparse balladesque moody piece that finds Davis’s piano plunking around percussively in the lower register to begin with, while Bisio’s bass and Gauci’s sax tentatively dance around each other to establish a motif. Bisio is the more active of the two even though he often plays off Gauci’s sparse riffing. At this point things are rife with possibilities. It is well over three minutes before Kris’s piano decides to enter with some counter-melody, and it gets into a pretty cool post-Bop groove, courtesy of Bisio’s trad-jazz baseline. Gauci’s sax work is smooth as silk, reminiscent of Ornette Coleman’s more soulful and introspective work. Things really heat up and take off at half past six with in all directions divergent yet converges back together for the balladesque finale. ‘Just To Be Heard’ begins with sax and bass in a riffing race while Davis throws in the occasional chordal fragment or phrased accent. Bisio’s running like a wildman possessed propelling Gauci’s agitated sax into a region of mewling squeals and squalls while the piano keeps knocking at the door of this melee right up til the end.

The album is hard to describe in words. It has a lot more to do with musical feeling than anything purely technical or aesthetic. There are moments of absolute brilliance on it, and at other times you get the impression the musicians are searching for something not easily found. Through most of it Michael Bisio exedues an intuitive confidence and direction I’ve not often heard from a bassist (except maybe Charlie Haden) in this type of free jazz collaboration. Kudos to Kris Davis too for her willingness to take risks and skirt the fringe of the oblique. As for Gauci, I got the impression that at times he was holding back, perhaps for good reason to let the other players take a more dominant role. Still, there is no question that his work here is impressive when he wants to step out, and supportive when he deems it best to lay back. A challenging listen by any means, lovers of free jazz should find this quite engaging. I look forward to their next collaboration together.
http://www.chaindlk.com/reviews/?id=6257

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All About Jazz Italy review by Vincenzo Roggero

SKM (Stephen Gauci / Kris Davis / Michael Bisio) – Three (CF 189)
Valutazione: 4 stelle
Stephen Gauci ha avuto come maestri Joe Lovano, George Garzone e Frank Wess. Kris Davis è sempre stata affascinata dal possibile connubio tra musica contemporanea e jazz. Michael Bisio è forse il contrabbassista che si avvicina di più al lirismo inquieto di Charlie Haden. Tre musicisti quindi che flirtano con una tradizione in movimento e che hanno trovato nel corso degli anni una propria via al rinnovamento del linguaggio jazzistico.

In Three si gettano a capofitto nella libera improvvisazione – “Now” è l’unico brano scritto ed è una straordinaria esibizione al contrabbasso archettato di Michael Bisio – condividendo storie, visioni, sensibilità, prospettive assolutamente personali. Ne esce un album sorprendente, spiazzante, ammaliante come il canto delle sirene, per certi versi cerebrale ma lontano da intellettualismi fuori luogo, perché si avverte continuo e instancabile, il pulsare nella materia della creatività, del mettersi in gioco con il cuore e con l’anima.

SKM è un trio che si potrebbe definire di stampo cameristico (l’assenza di ritmica e la strumentazione non possono non rimandare alla storica formazione Giuffre/Bley/Swallow) ma la musica che produce è tutt’altro che immobile, rigida e priva di swing. Anzi il diverso approccio dei musicisti e il loro differente background producono una tensione continua quasi palpabile fisicamente, con il piano metafisico della Davis che accende il sax ruvido e abrasivo di Gauci mentre il contrabbasso di Bisio punzecchia con linee melodiose le asimmetrie del flusso sonoro.

Three è album da gustare appieno, con preziosità che emergono ascolto dopo ascolto. E due perle a illuminare il tutto. “Something from Nothing” è brano che nasce dal nulla davvero – le corde pizzicate del pianoforte, il legno del contrabbasso leggermente percosso, le chiavi del sassofono ad alimentare il ritmo – che progredisce come una sorta di Bolero minimalista e un po’ schizofrenico. Mentre in “No Reason to or Not to” ogni cosa sembra accadere per caso, salvo poi magicamente ricomporsi tra cambi di tempo e spazi che si dilatano e comprimono dolcemente.

Una delizia!

Paris Transatlantic review by Jason Bivins

SKM (Stephan Gauci / Kris Davis / Michael Bisio) – THREE (CF 189)
Lyricism and spiderwebbed dissonance from the engaging Kris Davis open up “The End Must Always Come,” and, for all its density and sheer sonic abundance, there’s so much detail in terms of polytonality, registral shifts and rhythmic cross-cutting that her playing is jaw-dropping. When Gauci enters, ragged and antic, Bisio knows just how to wend through or bolt down this kind of playing – listen to his stellar recent duets with Connie Crothers if you need more evidence – as a beautiful bit of repetition seals the piece to a finish. They’re spiky and contrapuntal again on “Like a Dream, a Phantom,” which opens with a lovely duet with Davis and Bisio where the pianist is given stylistically to sudden turns away from dense layers of sound to whip up a sudden rhapsodic swell that sends her crashing back to crab-walk away from the tide in another complex direction. Gauci digs into the rhythmic fragments with great sympathy, riding, transforming and even slowing things down altogether for a lovely balladic space where the saxophonist is simply in the zone. Things change up a bit with the tasteful inside piano and bass-body rhythm on “Something from Nothing,” where Davis’ quicksilver repetitions and variations are almost like Borah Bergmann, via Vijay Iyer. There is dark spaciousness to open the appropriately titled “Groovin’ for the Hell of It,” which in time comes to exult with lower register piano, alto squawks, and shouts. For more groove, dig the nice threeway rhythm on “Still, So Beautiful,” where Gauci sounds like he’s having a blast tossing out curve balls, keeping folks on their toes and playfully fucking with the pulse, even halting altogether at times .”No Reason To or Not To” is the most abstract piece, with plenty of space everywhere, but the trio ends with a return to their sweet spot, the rhythmic race and overlapping lines of “Just to Be Heard.” More deliciousness from the ever-impressive Clean Feed, and a real statement from Davis in particular.
http://www.paristransatlantic.com/magazine/monthly2010/10oct_text.html#8

All About Jazz New York review by Ken Waxman

SKM (Gauci / Davis / Bisio) – Three (CF 189)
Stretching herself musically by playing with a variety of local bands, including her own, pianist Kris Davis reaches a pinnacle of sorts with this almost completely improvised outing, as part of a co-op trio, whose other members are as busy as she. Luckily bassist Michael Bisio and tenor saxophonist Stephen Gauci have developed similarly simpatico interactions, often working as sidemen in each other’s groups. Still Three is different. Lacking the dominant beats a drummer would bring to the session, the trio take turns assaying the rhythm function, with the saxophonist’s harsh vibrations and unexpected chord substitutions as crucial as the bassist’s string slapping and pumping or the pianist’s jagged percussive patterns. Similarly, bravura technical skills mixed with fearless invention take the place of any expected chord progressions they would rely on in other situations. If weaknesses are exposed, it’s because at times the ad hoc structure prevents at least one of the trio from outputting more than token comping or obbligatos. This is apparent on a tune like the otherwise stellar “Groovin’ for the Hell of It”. Slyly subverting the title’s promise, rhythmic impetus is expressed through foot pedal weight and key banging that bring the piano’s lowest quadrant into play, plus tremolo vibrations and pressurized saxophone reed bites. Bisio appears MIA. However he makes up for this elsewhere, when contrasting dynamics are expressed through his step-by-step walking that often shadows jagged saxophone slurs or when his muscular bass slaps complement almost outrageously syncopated piano lines.

Confirming SKM’s roles as quasi-percussionists is the sardonic “Something from Nothing”. With Bisio’s rubato maneuvers making it appear as if he’s creating tabla-like echoes with his bass, Davis’ rough-edged chording involves the soundboard plus the keyboard, with the resulting kinetic tones sounding more metallic than acoustic. Add Gauci’s discursive and staccato reed bites and the end result here – and on most other tunes – is both multi-faceted and magisterial.
http://www.aaj-ny.com/issues/aaj_ny_201010.pdf

Master of a Small House review by Derek

SKM (Stephen Gauci/ Kris Davis/ Michael Bisio) – Three (CF 189)
Operating under the ostensible leadership of saxophonist Stephen Gauci, but still very much an ensemble affair, versatility factors prominently on this straightforward trio set. Gauci and bassist Michael Bisio are well-established colleagues, their associations formed in the last decade on a number of projects for CIMP. Canadian pianist Kris Davis moves in similar circles having worked with New York notables like Tony Malaby and Tom Rainey. Their rapport manifests right away, stressing spontaneity rather than any predictable path with their instrumentation. It’s a “down to brass tacks” approach echoed in a simple initials-as-album title summary.

All but one of the program’s eight pieces is collectively composed. Only “Now” sources from Bisio’s pen, a solo feature for his signature emery board arco bass. Gauci sits out the opening minutes of “The End Must Always Come” setting a precedent that shapes the other tracks in the set. Sharply drawn duos and solos thread through various pieces with Davis and Bisio frequently pairing off for tightly braided interplay. The bassist is no stranger to pared down settings in the company of a piano and that familiarity serves him well here.

Davis responds in kind though repetitive aspects of her playing grate on occasion. In the closing minutes of the aforementioned opener she locks on an ostinato pattern wears it down to a nub as Gauci flutters in circles around her. It’s an action wrought with intent, but one that ends up sounding overwrought. “Something From Nothing” takes the tactic to an even greater extreme, barely equating with its title as the three musicians built a constrictive repeating weave from the barest of rhythmic materials. It’s an initially interesting exercise in self-imposed group parameters that ultimately feels overly hermetic.

Other pieces like the comparatively aerated Gauci/Davis duo “Groovin’ for the Hell of It” fare better in speaking to the trio’s strengths. Davis’ dusky and staggered chords have a Bley-like luster to them and Gauci’s fastidious feather-duster tone plies in the service of suitably diagonal phrasing. Those comparisons bring immediately to mind the classic Giuffre trio, but it’s really just a surface point of comparison. Balancing liberating extemporaneousness within the context of carefully considered structures these three players arrive at a music that both invites and largely withstands close scrutiny.
http://masterofasmallhouse.blogspot.com/

Gapplegate Music review by Grego Edwards

SKM (Stephen Gauci, Kris Davis, Michael Bisio – Three (CF 189)
The drumless jazz-improv trio (in this case tenor, piano and bass) offers up different possibilities. Without the drums there is a transparency to the musical texture, the bass is exposed in its direct manifestations unmediated by the wash of the ride cymbal and snare-bass-drum punctuations. The bass becomes a third “horn,” so to speak. The trio SKM (Stephen Gauci, tenor, Kris Davis, piano, Michael Bisio, acoustic bass) takes advantage of the opportunity in a densely creative self-titled CD just out on Clean Feed (189).

It’s modern avant chamber jazz that gives equal weight to all three artists. All the various solo, duo and trio configurations are made good use of. This is serious music. Seriously advanced music.

Michael Bisio is his usual inventive self, using all manner of standard and augmented techniques to create a distinctive aural universe. He is a master. (Any reader of this blog has come across my various accolades on his artistry, so I wont repeat them here.) He is shown in especially good light in this project.

Kris Davis plays a piano that combines a Cecil Taylor motility with some Cagean prepared piano sounds on occasion. She has a finessed earthiness that comes out of her own sensibility. The end result is a player of distinction. She engages in wide-ranging flights of fancy. She is impressive and mixes her attack with the others in a sensitive and eloquent manner. (See my review of Paradoxical Frog at my Gapplegate Music Review Blog for more on Ms. Davis.)

Steve Gauci sounds terrific on tenor, as he always does, though for this outing he is especially inspired with rapid jabs and asymmetrical phrasing that give the three-way musical dialog a special quality (that Kris and Michael pick up on and give back in equal measure. OK, so the causal arrow can go three ways, but it is natural to hear the tenor as the lead instrumentalist if you listen frequently to this kind of music. Here it is a three-way affair, so suffice to say that his fragments of phrases are a mirroring of, and are mirrored by Kris and Michael’s phrasings.) Steve also strings together some long, complicated-interesting lines when the music goes that way.

What is especially ear-grabbing to me is the judicious use of repetition here and there to intensify the particular emphasis at any given point. More than that SKM is improv at its best. The artists make a definitive statement. The CD should be heard by all those wanting to dig the latest in the improvisatory firmament. It makes for exhilarating, absorbing listening.
http://gapplegateguitar.blogspot.com/

Free Jazz review by Stef Gissels

Stephen Gauci, Kris Davis, Michael Bisio – Three (CF 189)
****½
In the past years, I praised saxophonist Stephen Gauci’s to the stars, I praised pianist Kris Davis for her innovative musical creativity, and I praised bassist Michael Bisio for his inventive and emotional playing. Then you get them as a trio, and it’s a guarantee that sparks will fly.

The playing is unconventional, so is the structure of the compositions, and so are the order of the pieces, starting with “The End Must Always Come”, starting heads-on with heavy piano chords and a frantic right hand, with Bisio’s bass trying to keep up with Davis’s stream of consciousness. Gauci joins with short staccato bursts, then starting with wild phrases with the piano circling around the same tonal center, gradually increasing the wild intensity, yet gradually the piano limits itself to repetitive phrasing over a single note bass, and beautiful soloing by the sax, full of resignation for the inevitable, giving up all struggle, leaving the floor to the polyrhythmic repetitive piano.In short, a kind of strangely evolving piece, yet full of depth, introducing the listener into a real wonderland.

“Like A Dream, A Phantom” starts with solo sax, with a piano response in an almost post-boppish way – I almost expected Davis to start grunting along like Jarrett, shifting from slow romanticism to more intensity, with Gauci organically joining in with repetitions of the same note, the piano dropping away, and Gauci’s heartrending playing tenderly supported by the warmth of the bass, mirroring the growth of intensity by the piano earlier in the piece.

The most expressive piece is without a doubt “Something From Nothing”, with the piano, sax and bass playing muted percussive sounds, like a mad and relentless rhythm section, with the occasional voiced note arising out of the agitation, now a piano key, then a single sax tone, or a string plucked. The piece’s magnificent restraint creates an equal level of tension, that is gradually, ever so slowly released, not in a tune, but in a rhythmic playing with the same notes, around which the three instruments start adding tiny expansions, maintaining all the while the relentless tempo they set from the start.

I will not review each track. You get the picture: each piece is a carefully and inventively structured piece, capturing the soul of music, changing the familiar upside-down without changing it completely, offering new perspectives on interaction, making the unexpected essential in each piece, treating the listener to fantastic ear-candy and to some fun too: on “Groovin’ For The Hell Of It”, a quite free development suddenly hits the wall of a halted piano rhythm, going totally against the established groove, sounding like the sax is taken by surprise, but smoothing things out as they proceed. The same playfulness in the interaction can also be heard on the last track.

And despite all the wide explorations of the possibilities of the instruments, it stays relatively accessible, even Bisio’s fantastic “Now”, a bass solo beyond the conventional, with a few piano strings plucked in the middle part.

The album’s highlight is “No Reason To Or Not To”, a slow minimalist yet wonderfully lyrical piece, on which the trio sets down a mood and atmosphere with sparse sounds, not built around solos, but around a few cautious phrases.

An absolute delight, this album. You can keep listening to it: joy and new pleasures guaranteed with each listen. Without a doubt, these three musicians understand music in a very profound way and manage to create music that is also utterly creative and deep. Don’t miss it. 
http://freejazz-stef.blogspot.com/