The Slightest Shift is young Canadian-born pianist Kris Davis' second release as a leader, following her acclaimed 2004 debut, Lifespan. Joined by her husband, drummer Jeff Davis, the ever reliable bassist Eivind Opsvik and the ubiquitous saxophonist Tony Malaby, this recent New York resident reconvenes her sympathetic working ensemble to investigate a new set of abstract post-bop compositions.
Davis' contrapuntal, open-ended writing avoids routine devices like conventional chord changes and head-solo-head arrangements with a neo-classical sensibility. Favoring gnarly, interlocking linear structures, Davis subdivides her compositions into cells, allowing individual players to alternate roles as accompanist and soloist at regular intervals. Each member routinely trades angular melodies, abstruse rhythms and advanced harmonies that challenge and complement their peers, making this one of the most satisfying group efforts of recent vintage.
An intriguing mix of influences, Davis' singular pianism is never derivative. Subconsciously revealing her classical training, touches of Ligeti and Bartok hover in the margins of her phrasing. Gliding gingerly over the keys, extracting pleasingly unique melodies and harmonies, Davis invokes the graceful delicacy of Paul Bley and Keith Jarrett on "Jack's Song." Skittering up and down the keyboard with linear virtuosity on "Once," she pounds out harsh clusters and jarring blocks of sound as capably as Don Pullen or Marilyn Crispell.
Drummer Jeff Davis plays his kit with an alert responsiveness, less a traditional rhythm section accompanist than a creative colorist and spry agitator. Opsvik makes a great addition to the husband and wife team. His melodically assured tone and inventive phrasing provide just the right balance between freedom and form to support the shifting undercurrents of these intricate compositions.
Tony Malaby seems to appear everywhere these days. A chameleonic soloist, he has an uncanny knack for finding just the right sound for each and every session, from delicate lyricism to unhinged frenzy. Sumptuous swinging refrains on "35 Cents," impressionistic balladry on "And Then I Said" and rapturous, vertical caterwauling on "Once" reveal his sonic palette.
An exciting, imaginative new voice, Davis uses her self-effacing writing as a dynamic model of democratically balanced improvisational structures. The Slightest Shift is another document in the nascent discography of an up and coming new artist. Don't let this one pass you by.
Bloodwine; And Then I Said...; Once; 35
Kris Davis: piano; Tony Malaby: tenor saxophone; Eivind Opsvik: bass; Jeff Davis: drums.
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