The music of pianist, improvisor and composer Anthony Davis eludes easy categorization. Active in a variety of media, including operatic, symphonic, choral, chamber, dance, theater, and improvised musics, Davis has focused upon the integration of improvised and notated expressive resources. His work embodies an intercultural approach, drawing not only upon traditional and current African-American sources, but upon the Javanese gamelan, American Minimalism, and the European and Euro-American avant-garde.
His fourth and most recent opera, AMISTAD, based on the slave ship uprising of 1839 and the subsequent trial, premiered at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in November of 1997, with libretto by Thulani Davis and direction by New York Public Theater artistic director George C. Wolfe. His first and best-known opera, X: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MALCOLM X, with libretto by Thulani Davis, premiered at the New York City Opera in 1986.
Davis's recent orchestral works include NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND, premiered in 1988 at Carnegie Hall with the American Composers' Orchestra; ESU VARIATIONS, commissioned by the Cultural Olympiad for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and premiered in Atlanta in May, 1995; and JACOB'S LADDER, dedicated to the composer Jacob Druckman, premiered in October, 1997 by the Kansas City Symphony. His work HEMISPHERES, a collaboration with choreographer Molissa Fenley, was awarded the first Bessie Award for Music for Dance. Davis also composed the incidental music for the Broadway production of Tony Kushner's ANGELS IN AMERICA: MILLENNIUM APPROACHESPART ONE which premiered in May, 1993 and PART TWOPERESTROIKA, which debuted in November of 1993. Most recently, Davis completed a work for the Jose Limon Dancers entitled DANCE, a collaboration with choreographer Ralph Lemon.
As a pianist, Davis has collaborated extensively with musical artists working in experimental forms whose work challenges traditional boundaries between composition and improvisation. His own performance ensemble, Episteme, combines disciplined interpretation with provocative real-time music-making. His latest work for improvisors, HAPPY VALLEY BLUES (SOUNDS WITHOUT NOUNS), composed for the String Trio of New York, recently toured throughout the United States and Europe with the composer at the piano. Davis has performed with a number of improvisors associated with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, including Wadada Leo Smith's ensemble, New Dalta Ahkri, as well as with the ensembles of Anthony Braxton, Leroy Jenkins, and Roscoe Mitchell. He has also performed and recorded with such improvisors as David Murray, Abdul Wadud, James Newton, Ray Anderson, Barry Altschul, and Marion Brown, among many others.