Kris Davis Duopoly (Pyroclastic Records): Davis has for quite some time been one of the most distinctive of pianists on the New York scene to make a big noise without, well, making that much noise. There’s a grace and even quietude to her best work, which is not to say that her playing lacks energy, swing, or any other quality. Yet there’s something about her touch and her thinking (free, yet never wandering) that makes her an ideal collaborator (I loved her work in the trio Paradoxical Frog, with saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and drummer Tyshawn Sorey). The concept on this CD is a series of duets, pairing Davis with an interestingly curated cast: guitarists Bill Frisell and Julian Lage; pianists Craig Taborn and Angelica Sanchez; drummers Billy Drummond and Marcus Gilmore; and reed players Tim Berne and Don Byron. These are A-list improvisers, not to mention mostly rugged individualists who collaborate with compassion but bend to no one’s will. The first half of the CD cycles through each partner in composed pieces; the second reverses that order for free improvisations. If that seems contrived in theory, it doesn’t sound so in the results. There is instead a lovely balance and a coherent flow. Frisell heightens Davis’s innate sense of weirdness, and highlights the good use she makes of prepared piano (I’m pretty sure it was prepared, anyway; sometimes Frisell’s arsenal of sounds can make even a standard piano sound so…) and repetitive figures. Berne lures her into dark corners of harmony and a playful sense of form. A version of “Prelude to a Kiss” with Byron is the most creative and tonally logical combination of clarinet and piano I’ve heard recorded in this young century. And with Taborn, Davis shares something truly special—based on restraint, conscious of space, and something like floating. (There’s a DVD included in this package. Maybe it’s cool. The music was all I needed to understand what went on here.)
Essential library additions:
Miles Davis Quintet Freedom Jazz Dance: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 5 (Columbia/Legacy, Oct. 21): There was a time when I thought that maybe record labels shouldn’t be releasing all this bootleg session stuff. Maybe we didn’t need it. Maybe it was too much. Maybe there are even ethical problems (“The Complete Bud Powell on Verve,” which was among the earliest of the boxed-set reissue collections during the CD’s glory days, raised such questions in its expansive notes.) The answer—at least when it comes to anything from this Miles quintet is: Yes, please bring it on! These three CDs, from 1966-68, would be worth listening to simply for the studio chatter, which is as illuminating as it is cool. Included here is, as the press release states, “every second of music and dialogue that were taped for the ‘Miles Smiles album…” And, as they say on TV—that’s not all.. Personally, I can’t possible get enough of the making of “Nefertiti” or “Footprints.” If there were 10 more reels, I’d want those too.
David S. Ware & Matthew Shipp Duo Live in Sant’Anna Arressi, 2004 (Aum, Oct. 21): This second volume in AUM’s Davis S. Ware Archive Series, is essential listening for anyone who valued the magisterial possibilities of Ware’s playing and anyone who tracked, as I did, the work of his wondrous quaret, which included pianist Shipp. There are few musicians who could sustain what is essentially one album-length improvisation: Ware was one. There are also few musicians who would know how to channel that abundant energy and process its purpose: Shipp remains one.
Next up to hear:
Donny McCaslin Beyond Now (Motéma): This is basically David Bowie’s last band, the one he used for “Blackstar,” including saxophonist McCaslin, bassist Tim Lefebvre, drummer Mark Guiliana and keyboardist Jason Lindner, along with some additional guests. It’s not as if Bowie set McCaslin on this path; really, the plugged-in sound, rhythmic intensity and sense of ambient possibility heard on Blackstar was evident in McCaslin’s music since his 2011 release, “Perpetual Motion.” Yet there are few forces as animating and galvanizing as Bowie was to lend purpose and poise to an idea. I haven’t yet dug in, but I’m eager to hear what McCaslin took from that experience.
Aziza (Dare2): This quartet—bassist Dave Holland, guitarist Lionel Loueke, saxophonist Chris Potter and drummer Eric Harland—assembled for Holland’s Dare2 label is in one respect a fascinating elder master-plus-midcareer standouts ensemble. It also promises to be a fascinating left-of-center springboard for collective creations from four limber and free-thinking players. The name—Aziza—is drawn from the mythology of Dahomey, the African kingdom that encompassed Loueke’s homeland, Benin: in that tradition, Aziza is a small, elusive woodland creature that lends magic to artists and hunters in the woods. Holland isn’t a small guy, but otherwise he fits that bill.
Photo by Larry Blumenfeld