By Giovanni Russonello | Published November 2019
The New York jazz scene today is woefully low on opportunities for steady, residency-based work, so it’s naturally flush with rotating collaborations and one-off projects. Kris Davis, a breezily versatile and scrupulously distinctive pianist, has found a way to turn this landscape to her advantage.
Diatom Ribbons, her 12th album as a leader or coleader, collapses Davis’ broad experience on the scene into a leadership strategy. At the same time, in varying formations drawn from a group of 10, many of whom don’t typically play together, she doesn’t compromise on her detail-driven, subtly expansive approach as a composer.
On the title track, a drilling rhythm built of subtle misalignments carried out by Davis’ prepared piano and Terri Lyne Carrington’s drums underpins snippets of Cecil Taylor’s voice—arranged by Val Jeanty, handling electronics and turntables—talking about structural ideas in music and artistic power. (Carrington, Jeanty and Davis make up the album’s core trio.) Eventually, JD Allen and Tony Malaby enter on saxophones, harmonizing on a wary, teetering melody as the rhythm shifts again, opening up beneath them.
Davis has been “about to break out” for the past dozen years, but her style has proven too stubbornly iconoclastic to catch on broadly. Now, though, the word is out, and anyone closely concerned with contemporary jazz keeps an ear open for Davis’ next move. So, listen up.
Diatom Ribbons: Diatom Ribbons; The Very Thing; Rhizomes; Corn Crake; Stone’s Throw; Sympodial Sunflower; Certain Cells; Golgi Complex (The Sequel); Golgi Complex; Reflections. (56:39)
Personnel: Kris Davis, piano; Val Jeanty, turntable; Terri Lyne Carrington, drums; Esperanza Spalding (2, 7), vocals; JD Allen, Tony Malaby, tenor saxophone; Ches Smith, vibraphone; Nels Cline, Marc Ribot, guitar; Trevor Dunn, electric bass.