The adjective that comes to mind again and again when listening to this quartet recording by pianist and composer Kris Davis is "refreshing. Much of The Slightest Shift sounds close to free improvisation, but there is also a recurring sense that one is listening to a modern chamber music ensemble. And the initial impression of at times decentralized free play belies a group working in close coordination within definite compositional frameworks. Along with Davis, Tony Malaby (tenor saxophone), Eivind Opsvik (bass) and the bandleader's husband, Jeff Davis (drums), make up the quartet.
The Slightest Shift is also a reminder that improvisation which pushes at the boundaries of form and tonality needs not have a furious and aggressive edge. Davis' compositions and her group's improvisationit's often hard to distinguish hereare sometimes heated but often contemplative and deliberate. And as animated as the music gets, as on "Once, there remains a quality of peacefulness, rather than confrontation.
The opening "Bloodwine is the first of several standout tracks. Its halting beginning gives way to a slow, swaying two-chord progression with a wide-ranging Malaby solo and Davis building increasingly tempestuous and dark chords beneath him. "Morning Stretches is gentle and spare with, as the title suggests, a preparatory feel. It segues into the album's compositional highlight, the gorgeous "Jack's Song. Similarly, "Twice Escaped begins sparely, becomes increasingly layered and arrives at a solo piano coda that segues directly into the rhythmically complex and kinetic title track.
Bloodwine; And Then I Said...; Once; 35
Kris Davis: piano; Tony Malaby: tenor saxophone; Eivind Opsvik: bass; Jeff Davis: drums.
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