Bassist Eric Revis
typically has so many ideas in play that it's virtually impossible for him to limit himself to one ensemble at a time. This is one of the reasons why he's used a variety of groups over the years to deliver his music. His trio with pianist Kris Davis
and drummer Andrew Cyrille
released City of Asylum
(Clean Feed) in 2013, and then another iteration of the trio, Crowded Solitudes
(Clean Feed) in 2016, with Gerald Cleaver
taking over the drum chair. His quartet project makes excellent use of tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry
and altoist Darius Jones
, and adds drummer Chad Taylor
to the mix: see 2014's In Memory of Things Yet Seen
(Clean Feed). Another version of the quartet swapped Jones and McHenry for Davis and saxophonist Ken Vandermark
, on 2017's Sing Me Some Cry
(Clean Feed). And then there are his many collaborations with other artists, not the least of which was his appearance on Branford Marsalis
' excellent 2019 album, The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul
Revis' animating purpose with his latest release, Slipknots Through a Looking Glass
, is to pull broadly from the very diverse palette of interests found in the above projects. Take his love of a sinewy groove, add a generous dose of atmosphere and mystery, and finish it off with an abiding commitment to spontaneous creativity, and you get an idea of what's on offer here. The personnel on hand also point to this being a kind of snapshot of Revis' musical identity in 2020. Davis is of course part of the group, as is Taylor (along with Justin Faulkner
, Marsalis' drummer on the Secret Between
album, for a couple tracks). But adding the two-horn tandem of McHenry and Jones expands Revis' options significantly, thus allowing him essentially to merge his trio and quartet projects. And the results are superlative, with additional nuances and pathways of texture and harmony made availablenot to mention the trademark rhythmic energy that Revis always manages to create.
The music thrives in the space between structure and indeterminacy. Revis' pieces are thoughtfully crafted but they don't feel overly mapped out, allowing the space required for the players' individual personalities to shine. Davis' percussive prepared piano on the irresistible, obliquely funky opener, "Baby Renfro," is a fine example; listeners familiar with her work on 2019's Diatom Ribbons
(Pyroclastic) will recognize her instantly here. Her varied contributions throughout the album are all indispensable; when she gets a moment to soar she certainly takes it (witness her assertive flights on "Vimen"), but she's just as important when she's not out front, providing color and shading to complete the music.
The others' roles are just as important. Taylor's chameleonic drumwork is characteristically flexible, just as capable of roaring through a rave-up 4/4 on Jones' "Shutter" as navigating the free-form opening section of "Vimen" or providing a charged burst of rhythmic energy toward the end of the moody, noir-ish "Earl & the Three-Fifths Compromise." And McHenry and Jones each bring their distinctive voices to the group, whether in rich harmony parts or in moments of individual expression. Their back-and-forth dialogue on McHenry's lovely ballad "When I Become Nothing" reveals an organic rapport, and when each gets a chance to turn it loose on "Vimen," their solos are invigorating.
Interspersed throughout the album are the three takes of "Slipknots Through a Looking Glass," a multi-tracked bass dialogue (with separate bass parts in the right and left channels), complemented by highly atmospheric input from Davis, Taylor, and an additional sound that might be a very faint Jones issuing a haunting, upper-register wail. These tracks are rather brief, and one might be tempted to overlook them. But in fact, they create an inherently unsettled mood and add a good deal of uncertainty to the album. Revis and his bandmates have a lot to say, but the message is never as straightforward as it seems, and additional meanings are revealed with each encounter. Discerning the record's deeper mysteries is but one of its many pleasures.
Baby Renfro; SpAE; Earl & the Three-Fifths Compromise; Slipknots Through a Looking Glass, Part 1; Shutter; ProByte;
Slipknots Through a Looking Glass, Part 2; House of Leaves; When I Become Nothing; Vimen; Slipknots Through a
Looking Glass, Part 3.