The art of the duo has been practiced for ages by pianists, often – in recent times – with rather bold, avant-garde results, notably by Cecil Taylor and Paul Bley, and a handful of others. However, Kris Davis makes a compelling argument to come to her recording of duets with these sixteen miniatures; eight composed and the rest free improvisations. Each is a reason enough in itself to be beckoned to this performance and to obey. But as taken as a whole (double disc) the music is riveting because Kris Davis succeeds by seemingly poking each of the musicians in the eye and allowing herself to be similarly provoked as well; then agitating the cauldron they find themselves in with her, and revelling in the wonderful, magical results.
It would appear, judging by the aural tapestry of each miniature, that the music created by Kris Davis here has been performed outside the comfort zone of conventional notation (in the case of the composed pieces). There is greater evidence of this in the sonic ideas and extrapolations (of the free improvisations). The result is “readings” (a better word for these performances) and a yearning, restless roaming throughout the recording of the “Tunes”. An example (each track is really an outstanding example in itself) of just how explosive these encounters can be is heard in Billy Drummond’s exquisite fracturing drum lines and in Davis’ opposite brilliantly disembodied note heads of Monk’s “Eronel” as well as in the ebullient noodling and semi-remembered arpeggios in Don Byron’s clarinet and the arresting responses of Kris Davis as the deconstruct Duke’s “Prelude to a Kiss.
From the very instant that the first notes are struck you become aware of an intensity if ‘listening’ on the part of each partner in the respective duets. Alert and ever mindful of each other’s playing the level of alertness deepens as the music develops. Again, the free improvised duet between Don Byron and Kris Davis on the “Free Improvisations” is an outstanding illustration of the sensitivity towards one another; the tiptoeing towards orienting themselves around a structure that has yet to reveal itself. This distinct concentration and energy which derives from musicians feeling, in addition to reading, their way forwards is another singular characteristic of these sixteen stellar duets, especially in the “Free Improvisations”. (And once again, each successive improvisation with each musician is its own extraordinary illustration of this process).
Although musicians are encouraged to be equal partners Kris Davis commands the process with clarity and conviction. Her own performance is a model of almost transcendental meditation as her pianism seems to levitate into unexplored sonic realms, beckoning her musical partners to follow. Together they continually spin feeder pools of notes that coalesce into architecturally centring lines and circles – fresh contexts into which to mash up the permutations and alter the perspectives between the vocabulary and statements, foreground and background, harmony and rhythm every, continually altered state of the music that is being created in real and suspended time.
What is fascinating to listen to is even more enthralling to watch in the nearly one hour and twenty minute film of the entire process. In an act of exacting perfection, Kris Davis has posted the entire film online and it is freely available to watch because, as she insists, the DVD, despite “after several rounds of testing, correcting and refining) did not live up to my expectations or standards of quality.” The duets also consist of the composed piece followed by the improvised performances with each musician successively, unlike the disc on which composed and improvised duets are separately laid out. To watch the full film you will have to go to the Vimeo site. Despite her assertions about the DVD quality, this package is still a marvelous addition to a Kris Davis collection in every discerning music lover’s library.
Track List: Tunes – 1: Prairie Eyes; 2: Surf Curl; 3: Fox Fire; 4: Beneath The Leaves; 5: Eronel; 6: Dig & Dump; 7: Trip Dance For Tim; 8: Prelude To A Kiss; Free Improvisations – 9: Don Byron; 10: Tim Berne; 11: Marcus Gilmore; 12: Billy Drummond; 13: Angelica Sanchez; 14: Craig Taborn; 15: Julian Lage; 16: Bill Frisell.
Personnel: Kris Davis: piano; Don Byron: clarinet; Tim Berne: alto saxophone; Marcus Gilmore: drums; Billy Drummond: drums; Angelica Sanchez: piano; Craig Taborn: piano; Julian Lage: guitar; Bill Frisell: guitar.