Kris Davis - Diatom Ribbons

Label: Pyroclastic Records, 2019

Personnel - Kris Davis: piano; Tony Malaby: tenor sax; JD Allen: tenor sax; Esperanza Spalding: vocals; Nels Cline: guitar; Marc Ribot: guitar; Ches Smith: vibraphone; Val Jeanty: turntable; Trevor Dunn: electric bass; Terri Lyne Carrington: drums.

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A breakthrough album by pianist Kris Davis is now out on Pi Recordings. Diatom Ribbons is her 14th recording as a leader and marks a new chapter in her career as she keeps writing and playing with imagination, courageously looking forward. Here, she is in charge of nine exceptional musicians, including old and new collaborators, who are combined to provide specific sonic outfits for each of the ten tunes on the record. If the presences of saxophonist Tony Malaby, vibraphonist Ches Smith, and bassist Trevor Dunn are not surprises, then the inclusion of great tenorist JD Allen, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, explosive guitarists Marc Ribot and Nels Cline, vocalist Esperanza Spalding, and Haitian electronics artist Val Jeanty are all new additions to Davis’ projects.

The title track opens the record with a voice sample of the unique pianist Cecil Taylor on top of an intricate, ambidextrous, percussive ostinato on piano. Bass and drums instill a dazzling groove, preparing the reception for the explorative saxophonists, who, after blowing sinuous coupled phrases, excel in their respective improvisations. Davis stipulates an excellent comping technique throughout, mixing harmonic sophistication with accented rhythmic configurations. For the last section, she returns to those relentlessly mechanic, partially muted attacks on the lower register in the company of Carrington’s hip rhythm and Jeanty’s inspired audio samples.

The voice of Spalding, druggy and freewheeling, contributes to give Michael Attias-penned “The Very Thing” a stratospheric soul jazz form. Malaby responds to the vocalist with juxtaposing angular offshoots, while the rhythm section sticks to an uncompromising groove in seven.

Two nonconformists of the modern guitar world fling their rock fire and thirst for exploration into four pieces. While Cline confines his howling spectral guitar on top of the indefatigably syncopations and distorted urban groove of “Certain Cells” and makes the intensity flare up noisily on “Rhizomes”, a tune that kicks off with a cool hip-hop-derived vibration prior to become electrified, Marc Ribot brings into focus all his adventurism and exploratory edge on “Golgi Complex” and “Golgi Complex (The Sequel)”. With splashes of dissonance and rhythmic friction, the former piece emulates a spinning cloud of boisterous and dense avant-garde particles, while the latter consolidates funk and rock into a sturdy framework, where Davis reveals improvisational coolness within a softer context.

Another collection of quotes, this time from French master composer Olivier Messiaen, appears on “Corn Crake”, an initially vague reverie with cascading piano that evolves into a groovy hip-hop adventure with syncopated rhythms, electronically modified bass lines, and punctilious piano work. If this particular piece is a trio effort with Jeanty, Davis, and Carrington, then “Sympodial Sunflower” is a piano-drums coalition carried out with a sensual tango feel.

The pianist wraps up with a genre-defying, quick-witted reading of Julius Hemphill’s “Reflections”, which reintegrates Allen and Malaby in the frontline.

Advertising Davis at the peak of her compositional grandeur, Diatom Ribbons is original and artistically inspiring, full of subtleties and invention.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Diatom Ribbons ► 03 - Rhizomes ► 10 - Reflections