Artist: Kris Davis
Label: Pyroclastic Records
Release Date: 9/30/2016
Pianist Kris Davis has an impressive new double disc containing a CD and accompanying DVD of each duo captured in split screen with a befitting title, Duopoly. The idea of Duopoly is to showcase various artists recording with Davis in a duet setting, performing one written composition and one improvisation. The pianist pairs herself with equally adept partners. Pianists Angelica Sanchez or Craig Taborn, guitarists, Bill Frisell or Julian Lage, drummers Billy Drummond or Marcus Gilmore, and reed players Tim Berne or Don Byron. Davis and her eight collaborating partners blur the lines between written compositions and completely improvised moments.
The opening track is a Davis composition, “Prairie Eyes,” with Frisell. His identifiable Telecaster guitar sustains chords across Davis’ prepared piano. Frisell eventually uses a delay pedal to repeat a single note figure that the two proceed to build upon, each player serving to fill out the composition in a conversational manner. For the spontaneous improvised selection, titled by each player’s name, “Frisell” is methodically built on a series of wide dissonant chordal colors that hang in space as the two instantly compose an improvisation that functions as a fully formed piece.
The project not only benefits by the wide-ranging styles of each player, but with the various instrumental colors that are heard on the project. The before mentioned electric sound of Frisell’s guitar is contrasted with Lage’s purely acoustic sound. Byron’s haunting clarinet on “Prelude to a Kiss” contrasts with Berne’s alto saxophone sound of percussive finger movements, blowing, percussive reed work and squelches on “Berne.” Thelonious Monk’s “Eronel” is a wonderful conversation with Drummond and Davis, highlighting the melodic capabilities of both instruments. Gilmore and Davis build both of their selections in a conversational manner that is logical and musical, both listening intently to one another and building upon each other’s energy and phrases. When teamed up with fellow pianists Sanchez and Taborn, Davis’ ability to listen and react to the musical moment is brilliantly on display. The symbiotic manner in which Davis and Taborn build “Fox Fire” sounds more like one pianist with four arms and ten fingers than two separate artists; in contrast, the melodic and harmonic relationships achieved by Davis and Sanchez is magical on “Sanchez,” with its constant pulse and shifting colors.
Duopoly seamlessly juxtaposes discord and beauty, flow with stagnation and roundness with angularity to create a modern classicism of audio beauty. The duet setting offers a lot of musical possibilities and this was thoroughly explored with a conviction that is stimulating and entertaining.