Kris Davis & Craig Taborn - Octopus

Label: Pyroclastic Records, 2018

Lineup - Kris Davis: piano; Craig Taborn: piano.


Two of the most formidable pianists and master improvisers of today’s jazz, Kris Davis and Craig Taborn, let their endless creativity fly high with a live recording session that comprises magnetic originals and ingenious reimaginations of pieces from Carla Bley and Sun Ra.

The idea came up after the studio collaboration between the two musicians for Davis’ last album Duopoly (Pyroclastic Records, 2016). Their unmistakable rapport triggered a series of live performances across the country, including the University of Michigan, the Wexner Center, and the UC San Diego, where the pieces of Octopus were recorded.

Opening with whispering invocations, Taborn’s “Interruption One” escalates into thoughtful reflections, ultimately inflating through gusts of melodic whirlwinds supported by regular sparse chords and tense strokes anchored in the lower register. Inexorable, these are consequentially transferred to high-pitched zones to work in counterpoint with other premeditated phrases or extemporaneous ideas. The finale includes an erudite cyclic movement with 14 beats per measure that easily catches the ear.

The following two pieces, “Ossining” and “Chatterbox”, were penned by Davis and are very dissimilar in nature. While the former, inspired by her recent move to the Hudson Valley, combines metallic timbres of prepared piano, smothered ticking sounds, and contrapuntal ostinatos in order to enrich the pulse and texture that lead to a serene finale, the latter sounds like a verbose abstraction of a bluesy swing song built through dense and expressionistic maneuvers delivered at a busy pace. Despite the free posture at the surface, tempo and coordination are addressed with unmistakable intuition, a fact that is noticeable again on “Interruption Three”, where the duo’s go-getting demeanor creates an untamed groove armored with agitated phrases and swift harmonic sequences. You’ll also find shrill trills and lively spirals dancing atop.

The 14-minute rendition of Carla Bley’s “Sing Me Softly of the Blues” is drowned in pure experimentalism and comes attached to “Interruption Two”, traversing the realms of classical and avant-jazz.

The album closes with a devoted version of Sun Ra’s “Love in the Outer Space”, whose slow awakening in tones of classical throws us into a state of dreamy idleness before falling into the irresistible African groove in six presented in the original.

Davis and Taborn’s fingers, like the tentacles of an octopus, have the ability to pull simultaneously this music in many directions or, in certain circumstances, make it flow within the same current. As spunky experimenters, their interplay is both surefooted and focused, aiming at a voluminous overall whose parts are congruously attached. There’s a lot to digest here, but this is definitely worthy of your time and attention.

       Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Interruption One ► 02 - Ossining ► 06 - Love in the Outer Space

Kris Davis - Duopoly


Kris Davis: piano; Bill Frisell: guitar; Julian Lage: guitar; Tim Berne: alto saxophone; Don Byron: clarinet; Craig Taborn: piano; Angelica Sanchez: piano; Billy Drummond: drums; Marcus Gilmore: drums.

Kris Davis is a forward-thinker Canadian pianist and composer who has combined innovation and sophistication in the modern music universe. Displaying an uncompromising style and unique musical trademarks, Davis is a confessed adept of exquisite linear notes in detriment of traditional chords.
Her new album, Duopoly, is a fantastic follow-up to the well-accepted Save Your Breath, gathering eight irreverent improvisers – guitarists Bill Frisell and Julian Lage, pianists Craig Taborn and Angelica Sanchez, drummers Billy Drummond and Marcus Gilmore, and reedists Tim Berne and Don Byron - with whom she plays two duets each. The tracks' alignment obeys to some rules, in a sort of mirror distribution. The first eight pieces are written material while the last eight, adopting the names of the guest musicians as titles, are totally improvised.

The guitarists are responsible for the most enjoyable pieces. In “Prairie Eyes”, the unmatchable Bill Frisell knocks us out with his typical folk-jazz approach. His alluring sound comes from the eccentricity of the chords and the incredible choice of notes. Davis’ flowing left-hand ostinato is an essential key for this cinematic merge of mystery and beauty. And what a dark lyricism they create!
Collaborating with the pianist for the very first time, Julian Lage excels in a different way, playing his acoustic 1939 Martin in “Surf Curl”. He does it with mastery and intelligence, taking advantage of Davis’ rhythmic stimulus.

Two pianos being played simultaneously can be weird and we have that sensation from time to time when listening to the creative soundscapes of the nebulous “Fox Fire”, which makes us ask the question: are Davis and Taborn twin pianists? Not really, but their lines of vision are full of intersections. “Beneath the Leaves”, composed and co-performed by Angelica Sanchez, compresses classical, avant-garde, and flamenco sketches into the same recipient.

Now, the drummers! Billy Drummond is featured in “Eronel”, a cool piece that Monk co-wrote. Responsive and classy, Drummond manages to find the best way to accompany Davis’ textural rambles. 
Eric McPherson’s skittish drumming creates unrestrained steam in “Dig & Dump”.

Pushing the limits of compulsiveness, “Trip Dance for Tim” invites the irreverence of Tim Berne, who neither curbs nor shies away when manipulating extended techniques to thrill. The almost unrecognizable rendition of Duke Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss”, apart from some dispersion, infuses an attractive romanticism.
From the improvised pieces, which still follow a logic structure, I was particularly impressed with “Tim Berne” and “Julian Lage”.

The 16 tracks of Duopoly, probing action-reaction reflexes, certificate Kris Davis as one of the most brilliant pianists around. Due to an elastic approach, her textural densities enlarge and shrink in favor of the circumstances. We’re before a charming, present-day jazz of elevated artistry.

         Grade  A

         Grade A

Favorite Tracks: 
01 – Prairie Eyes ► 02 – Surf Curl ► 05 – Eronel