On Rye Eclipse, pianist Kris Davis' quartet ventures deeper into the formidable abstractions documented on their previous release, The Slightest Shift (Fresh Sound, 2007). Featuring her husband, drummer Jeff Davis, omnipresent bassist Eivind Opsvik and Downtown saxophone phenomenon Tony Malaby, this is the Brooklyn-based pianist's second recording with her reliable quartet and the third for the esteemed indie label Fresh Sound New Talent.
Conservatory trained in her native Canada, the current New York City resident has quickly established herself as a gifted writer and improviser. Davis demonstrates a flair for composing works that seamlessly integrate the turbulent angularity inherent in free jazz with the formal austerity of chamber music.
Davis writes intricate, multi-segmented tunes that weave collective improvisation into knotty unison themes. Her inventive arrangements disregard conventional notions of soloist and accompanist, requiring each member of the quartet to provide melodic, harmonic and rhythmic support. Numerous shifts in tempo, tone and color blur the line between the written and improvised.
An equitable fusion of stylistic precedents, Davis' cerebral aesthetic embraces the neo-classical experimentation of Jimmy Giuffre and Wayne Shorter, the pensive lyricism of Paul Bley and Keith Jarrett and the stark modernism of Gyorgy Ligeti and Alexander Scriabin.
The epic title track opens the album; a labyrinthine structure that pitches tempestuous fanfares against ghostly silhouettes and halting, deconstructed swing. Employing multiple strategies throughout its duration, the piece demonstrates the quartet's studied accord, culminating in a roiling militaristic march that ebbs and flows with collective fervor.
Davis introduces the Monkish "Wayne Oscar" alone, unfurling rivulets of contrapuntal ingenuity with spry euphony. Gradually joined by her rhythm section, she gracefully navigates a loping, abstruse pulse before Malaby enters, amplifying the mood with his brawny tenor.
"Prairie Eyes" features Davis' penchant for brooding lyricism, her brisk minimalist patterns providing a tense undercurrent for the rhythm section's carefree rubato swing and Malaby's plangent commentary.
Exploring extreme dynamics, "Empty Beehive" revels in textural abstraction, unveiling spectral harmonics, whispery refrains and unsettling atmospherics. In contrast, "Black Tunnel" features the quartet at their most vivacious. Careening through a propulsive staccato theme, they sporadically interrupt their anthemic onslaught with brief passages of spare reflection.
Elegantly balancing magnanimous collective expression with challenging pre-written forms, Rye Eclipse is a stellar example of creative improvised music.
Personnel: Kris Davis: piano; Tony Malaby: tenor saxophone; Eivind Opsvik: bass; Jeff Davis: drums.