If Canadian pianist Kris Davis' auspicious debut, Life Span (FSNT, 2004), was an indication of her progressive tendencies, then The Slightest Shift reinforces those forward-thinking ideas in resounding and surprising ways. Whereas her debut was colored with expansive lyricism and melodic tapestries, the new recording is a bolder statement of Davis' compositional prowess, and the music now involves more abstract, condensed and freer modes.
With the help of some seriously open-minded musiciansincluding drummer Jeff Davis, bassist Eivind Opsvik and the prolific sax stylist Tony Malabythe compositions accentuate a group presence, rather than amounting to singular performances. Each individual voice is channeled into a convergent path. The arrangements are similar to conversations whose content is equally shared by every participant. Sometimes they are turbulent, other times harmonious, but they're always interesting; the musicians' voices are individually and collectively vivid.
The opening "Bloodwine is a good indicator of this intricate collaboration, with everything from unison lines to dramatic tempo shifts, heavy swing and layered solos. Davis delivers an intense and convulsive solo on "Once that opens up a clear path for Malaby's sonorous tenor; the rhythm section adds precision to the organized cacophony. But harmony also arises in the midst of these sometimes turbulent waters, as on the poignant "Jack's Song, where Davis plays with a gentle touch.
Progressive listeners can take their pick from the avant gardism of "And Then I Said..., the surrealism of "Morning Stretches, and the slow, winding dance of "Twice Escaped, which builds in intensity. Davis has shifted her ideas, and this slightest of adjustments has resulted in an intelligent, captivating recording that's well beyond the norm.
Bloodwine; And Then I Said...; Once; 35
Kris Davis: piano; Tony Malaby: tenor saxophone; Eivind Opsvik: bass; Jeff Davis: drums.
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