Caroline Davis - Alula

Label: New Amsterdam Records, 2019

Personnel - Caroline Davis: alto saxophone, voice; Matt Mitchell: Prophet 6, Modular and ARP synthesizers; Greg Saunier: drums.


Brooklyn-based alto saxophonist/composer Caroline Davis debuts Alula, an adventurous project launched in 2016 with Deerhof drummer Greg Saunier. The duo was augmented to the current trio with the inclusion of sought-after keyboardist Matt Mitchell. This 11-track collection of originals was compositionally motivated by an anterior digit on a bird’s wing and comes charged with trippy flights and landings, rotating lines and looped impressions, taut yet organic beats, and synth washes with throbbing bass notes trailing rigorous paths.

Alula” and its reverse “alulA” sound very peculiar, opening and closing the CD, respectively. The palindrome reads the same way, yet their sounds are distinct. The former, featuring Davis’ embedded vocals as a surprising layer, is deep-seated in a psychedelic avant-garde jazz on the edge of intervallic dissonance and it’s just a glimpse of what is to come. In turn, the latter, much shorter in time, displays parallel motions between saxophone and keyboards with Saunier’s unrestrictedly paving the lower level.

Inaugurated by sax and drums, “Flight” holds quite some funk at its core, advancing within a well-defined structure. Despite the energetic balance, this number doesn’t surpass “Wingbeat” in terms of danceability. Brought up with a sweeping splendor, the latter piece seems ready to ignite a fire with orbicular saxophone figures, effusive drumming, and the congruous bass conduction offered by Mitchell’s synthesizer.

Remiges” is one of my favorite pieces, starting as an ambiguous droning exercise before catapulting expressive elliptical movements with an M-base-like urgency. The audacious propulsion serves Davis and Mitchell’s improvisations, while Saunier, naturally more confined to a rhythmic support function, doesn’t hesitate to fill the role with provocative drum swoops.

Taking us to serene places, “Coverts” shines with even-tempered melody, silky harmonization, and a combination of snare drum distinctiveness and cymbal grit. It feels like a restorative tonic against the hectic excitement of tunes such as “Scapulars”, a fruitful, sometimes turbulent encounter between indie rock and avantjazz marked by the tearing passion of the saxophone, ultra-modern synth effects, and agitated drum automation providing strength.

Eclecticism is something valuable that the bandleader doesn’t want to step aside. Hence, the shape-shifting “Vortex Generation” mixes elements of folk, jazz, and electronica with taste and freedom.

Committed to moving forward as an artist, Davis makes her most daring album with Alula, pushing boundaries through a fresh, powerful material that, being willfully challenging, opens new horizons. This work will definitely attract bold listeners.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
04 - Remiges ► 05 - Scapulars ► 08 - Vortex Generator