Kris Davis

Save Your Breath
Clean Feed CF322 CD

By Ken Waxman

Consolidating her considerable musical gifts, Canadian-born, New York-based Kris Davis organized a uniquely constituted octet here to premiere or bolster her compositions. Confirming her range, the eight tunes are breezy and animated in spots, while looped around a dense, metal-like core. With the ensemble consisting of Ben Goldberg, Oscar Noriega, Joachim Badenhorst and Andrew Bishop playing different sized clarinets; drummer Jim Black and guitarist Nate Radley; plus Gary Versace on organ and Davis’ piano, the engendered textures frequently infer many associations, often during the same tune.

Despite its fanciful title for instance, “Whirly Swirly” is actually a multi-part suite. After the rock-influenced lead guitar faces off against metre-less free jazz drumming, a piano interlude introduces raucous multi-reed vibrations that sweep across juddering organ smears. Before the piece climaxes with a duel between pounding piano and percussion, a stark clarinet line stands out from other reed textures harmonized in such a way that baroque motifs are evoked. Arranging for only reeds and rhythm doesn’t limit Davis either. A track such as “Jumping over Your Shadow” for example shows how limpid bass clarinet tones mixed with calliope-like keyboard juddering can put textural flesh and bones on what starts off as a narrow display of solo clarinet tongue slapping. On the other hand, “The Ghost of your previous Fuckup” is introduced with a sequence of explosive polyphony until the swiveling theme is revealed. From then on, until the concluding organ-piano meld, thematic variations arrive via piano-key clipping, low-pitched alto clarinet echoes and finally clarinet warbles that create a relaxed line even as the thick bass clarinet and drum groove keep it grounded.

With such music also variable enough to reflect and conflate composed and improvised strategies, it’s very likely the demand for more large scale compositions from Davis will intensify. She may sense that too. As the title of one of this CD’s composition states: “Always Leave Them [Wanting More]”.

—For MusicWorks #122 Summer 2015