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Let's play a game. Call it "Is it improvised or composed?" Today's contestants are the Borderlands Trio, comprised of bassist Stephan Crump, pianist Kris Davis, and drummer Eric McPherson. Their release Wandersphere, recorded in December, 2020, consists of four tracks on two CDs. Four lengthy tracks, the shortest nearly twenty minutes and the longest at forty-one minutes plus. The game is, of course, rigged because listeners of the trio's previous release Asteroidea (Intakt, 2017) will know all the music is improvised and is the result of instant composing.
Imagine for a moment that you've come upon this recording with no prior knowledge of these three musicians. You don't know for instance that Crump is the anchor for bands led by Vijay Iyer and Liberty Ellman, besides his own outfits Rhombal Quartet and Rosetta Trio. McPherson may be best know for his long held chair in Fred Hersch's trio and Davis is one of the most in demand pianist today, working with everyone from John Zorn to Tyshawn Sorey, Terri Lyne Carrington, and Hafez Modirzadeh. Davis also leads her own ensemble and is an assistant director at Berklee College of Music.
Maybe we play this game because the music is seamless; you could also describe it as selfless. Three generous musicians building sonic structures. And without preconceptions or idiosyncratic gestures. Meaning; not one musician falls back on familiar licks or routines. Davis does employ a prepared piano here, a device she uses frequently in her own music. And to great effect, because her prepared piano agrees with McPherson's cymbal science and Crump's talkative bass. With all four of these extended improvisations, the mood and tempo is variable and the playful interactions are in full effect. This release should come with these instructions: close the blinds, turn up the volume and inhale this music.
Wnadersphere I, CD 1: Super Organism; An Invitation to Disappear. Wandersphere II, CD 2: Old Growth;