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Kris Davis: Duopoly

Mark Corroto By

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Query: when does improvised music appear more arranged than written compositions? The question is not a zen koan, it is the notion put forth by the sixteen duets performed by pianist Kris Davis and her eight collaborating partners. Davis, who can no longer be labeled a "rising star" of jazz and improvised piano, is a fully formed mature performer. Her dozen or so discs as leader and multiple collaborations with Michael Formanek, Ingrid Laubrock, Tyshawn Sorey, Jon Irabagon, and Eric Revis (to name just a few) have established her as a torchbearer for the next generation of jazz musicians.

The concept of Duopoly is quite simple. Each of Davis' collaborators recorded one written composition, the majority by Davis, and one improvisation. For this recording she cast her net wide, gathering folks she hasn't recorded with before, except guitarist Bill Frisell who, along with Davis, was featured on Kermit Driscoll's Reveille (Nineteen-Eight Records, 2010). Frisell opens the disc with the stark Davis composition, "Prairie Eyes," then closes with the improvisation named for each collaborator. His instantly recognizable Telecaster guitar feeds notes across Davis' prepared piano, each player serving the bare bones of the composition. When the two instantly compose, a trait shared by all of the improvisations, the ambition is to create a fully formed piece. Each pairing does indeed achieve those ends.

The engaging aspect here, is that each is achieved with differing players. Frisell's electric guitar could be contrasted with Julian Lage's acoustic, but each execution is a success. Drummer Billy Drummond's constant drum conversation on Thelonious Monk's "Eronel" becomes a painterly pulse in their improvisation, as does saxophonist Tim Berne's fingered minimalist squelch that rises (along with Davis) into a breakout eruption. Then there is the pair's loving deconstruction of Ellington's "Prelude To A Kiss" from clarinetist Don Byron and their subsequent improvisation that trod the most gentle path. The wow factor is turned up with fellow pianists Angelica Sanchez and Craig Taborn. Both players are skilled solo improvisers; their improvisations with Davis are small landscape painting masterpieces. Then again, so are Davis' interactions with drummer Marcus Gilmore.

Besides the audio disc, this release comes with a DVD video of each duo captured in split screen. One can listen to the music, then see how they actually accomplished it.

Track Listing: Prairie Eyes; Surf Curl; Fox Fire; Beneath The Leaves; Eronel; Dig & Dump; Trip Dance For Tim; Prelude To A Kiss; Don Byron; Tim Berne; Marcus Gilmore; Billy Drummond; Angelica Sanchez; Craig Taborn; Julian Lage; Bill Frisell.

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

Title: Duopoly | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Pyroclastic Records

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