Clean Feed CF 189 CD

By Ken Waxman

Stretching herself musically by playing with a variety of local bands, including her own, Canadian-born, New York-based pianist Kris Davis reaches a pinnacle of sorts with this almost completely improvised outing, as part of a co-op trio, whose other member are as busy as she. Luckily bassist Michael Bisio and tenor saxophonist Stephen Gauci have developed similarly simpatico interactions, often working as sidemen in each other’s groups.

Still Three is different. Lacking the dominant beats a drummer would bring to the session, the three take turns assaying the rhythm function, with the saxophonist’s harsh vibrations and unexpected chord substations as crucial as the bassist’s string slapping and pumping or the pianist’s jagged percussive patterns. Similarly, bravura technical skills mixed with fearless invention take the place of any expected chord progressions they would rely on in other situations. If weaknesses are exposed, it’s because at times the ad hoc structure prevents at least one of the trio from outputting more than token comping or obbligatos. This is apparent on a tune like the otherwise stellar “Groovin’ for the Hell of It”. Slyly subverting the title’s promise, rhythmic impetus is expressed through foot pedal weight and key banging from Davis that bring the piano’s lowest quadrant into play, plus tremolo vibrations and pressurized reed bites from Gauci. Bisio appears MIA. However he makes up for this elsewhere, when contrasting dynamics are expressed through his step-by-step walking that often shadows Guaci’s jagged saxophone slurs, or when his muscular bass slaps complement Davis’ almost outrageously syncopated lines.

Confirming SKM’s roles as quasi-percussionists is the sardonic “Something from Nothing”. With Bisio’s rubato maneuvers making it appear as if he’s creating tabla-like echoes with his bass, Davis’ rough-edged chording involves the soundboard plus the keyboard in referencing kinetic and a metallic clavichord tone rather than those expected from an acoustic piano. Add Gauci’s discursive and staccato reed bites, and the end result here – and on most other tunes – is both multi-faceted and magisterial.

Tracks: The End Must Always Come; Like a Dream a Phantom; Something From Nothing; Groovin’ for the Hell of It; Still So Beautiful; Now; No Reason to or Not to; Just to be Heard

Personnel: Stephen Gauci: tenor saxophone; Kris Davis: piano; Michael Bisio: bass

—For All About Jazz New York October 2010