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Kris Davis / Ingrid Laubrock / Tyshawn Sorey: Paradoxical Frog

Chris May By

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There's so much music bursting out of saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, and her cultural reference points are so diverse, that you never quite know, as you take a disc out of the sleeve for the first time, what she's going to be up to—aside from going further. The intriguing Paradoxical Frog contains more surprises.

Among the first fruits of Laubrock's more or less full-time relocation from London to Brooklyn, the album is a trio set made with pianist Kris Davis and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, on which the composing opportunities are shared out between the three players.

Despite its instrumentation, a good portion of the album is reminiscent of piano/bass/drums trio The Necks at its most spacious and unhurried, on discs such as Mosquito/See Through (ReR Megacorp, 2005). Lyrical, understated, concerned with consonance rather than dissonance, leisurely of pace but with motor rhythms running through them, "Slow Burn," "Homograph" and "On The Six"—all composed by Sorey—are perfectly realised examples of how less can add up to more.

The three tunes take minimalism to the edge, with Laubrock and Davis frequently rocking back and forth gently between key centers, and Sorey adding subtle punctuation. "Homograph" is remarkable. For 12:34 minutes, Laubrock and Davis exchange single notes in whispered call and response. To start with the notes are held only briefly, but as the track progresses they are sustained for longer. Practically every note offered by each player is followed by a few seconds silence, before the other answers. The sonically adventurous Laubrock, on tenor (as she is throughout the album), here mostly avoids high harmonics, vocalizations and broken notes, focusing instead on the conventional vocabulary of the instrument. "Homograph" may not sound exciting described thus, but it is a remarkably compelling performance.

Laubrock's two tunes, "Paradoxical Frog" and "Canine," have more complex harmonic structures, but by her standards they too are relatively straightforward. They also contain, in her solos, some of the disc's more outside moments—although, as on "Homograph," she generally eschews radical sonics. And while tonal innovations are among the delights of her most recent album as leader, Sleepthief (Intakt, 2009), it's an equal pleasure to hear her relishing the "natural" sound of the tenor. Both tracks begin softly, gradually building in intensity; "Paradoxical Frog" closes with a brilliantly nuanced drum solo over an insistent little piano motif; "Canine" with a typically playful Laubrock melody, brief and bouncy and repeated several times by the trio in unison.

Davis' three tunes are more consistently hot and bothered. "Iron Spider," which opens the album, is its shortest and fiercest track, all big drums, squalling saxophone and Wagnerian piano. As such it's also the least typical track, a bracing curtain raiser which in retrospect seems to be saying, "we can cook at high temperatures when we want to, but we've mostly chosen not to."

Strong sunlight, as it were, before the dappled beauty ahead.

Track Listing: Iron Spider; Paradoxical Frog; Slow Burn; Canines; Homograph; Ghost Machine; On The Six; Feldman.

Personnel: Ingrid Laubrock: tenor saxophone; Kris Davis: piano; Tyshawn Sorey: drums.

Title: Paradoxical Frog | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Clean Feed Records

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