Kris Davis

Capricorn Climber
Clean Feed CF 266 CD

Creating a cohesive program that moves from experimentation to straight-ahead swing and lush inventions – often on the same track – pianist Kris Davis outlines a series of moods on this program of her own compositions. Calgary-born Davis has made a reputation for herself as an arranger as well as a soloist and each of her compositions displays her sidefolk – some of New York’s most accomplished players – to their collective best advantage.

Take for instance Pass the Magic Hat, which starts off as a swirling and spiraling exposition for her piano plus the bass of Trevor Dunn and the drums of Tom Rainey, but soon evolves to a contrapuntal duel between her metronomic comping and Ingrid Laubrock’s pulsating tenor saxophone. A spikier secondary theme developed by violist Mat Maneri arrives, eventually to be harmonized with piano and reed slurs. On the other hand, Bottom of the Well is a cohesive recital-styled track with low-pitched piano clunks underscoring the chromatic string sets. Before a legato finale, Dunn vibrates a solo in the cello-range while the violist harshly rubs his strings. With Davis’ narrative literally more low-key and impressionistic, Pi is Irrational balances Maneri’s tremolo stridency with Rainey’s rugged ruffs and taps, until Laubrock’s gentling arpeggios presage a brief, rhythmically sophisticated bass solo.

Davis who studied at Banff and Toronto defines her program enough to give her soloists the freedom to interpolate everything from strident reed bites and fiddle scratches to extended cymbal vibrations into the nine tracks. But she reins them in enough with strategies ranging from inner piano string plucks to keyboard jabs and cohesive chording to maintain the integrity of her compositional visions.

—Ken Waxman

— For Whole Note Vol. 18 #8