Pianist Kris Davis is one of the shining lights in the contemporary NYC scene. Gliding effortlessly from providing the center of gravity for groups of her peers including Ingrid Laubrock, Mary Halvorson, and Tyshawn Sorey, to holding her own with legends like Andrew Cyrille, Tony Malaby, and Paul Motian. No less an authority than Wex favorite Jason Moran has called her, “An honorary descendant of Cecil Taylor.” Promoting her fascinating new record, Duopoly, she appears with one of her most engaging collaborators on that record, Craig Taborn, in a piano duo at the Wexner Center on Friday, October 7th at 8pm (tickets available here) sure to singe some eyebrows with its shower of sparks and leave reverberations throughout this town. More about the record and the show including videos below.
Duopoly might be the finest showcase for all the facets of Davis’ pianistic technique, improvisational verve, and intriguing compositions. She pairs with eight of the strongest, most individualistic voices in American music; the duos perform one named composition and one unnamed improvisation in reverse order, so there’s a palindromic effect as it progresses. The instrumental pairings back to back highlight, for example, the airy, delicate melody of Bill Frisell up against the studied classicist tendencies of Julian Lage and how Davis’ voicing melds and rubs against their approaches.
Her nudges and spikes around Don Byron’s cubist-gospel clarinet add up to a version of the classic “Prelude to a Kiss” that chills my bones and keeps me on the edge of my seat. The genius of the record’s structure is that the Byron echoes the unspooling structures she constructs with Tim Berne’s alto on “Trip Dance for Tim” right before and the edgy swing she finds with drummer Marcus Gilmore on “Dig & Dump,” then we hear the same voices in reverse in improvisation. Every approach complicates and informs every other; every tool gets to shine in pieces that stand alone but add up to a mosaic of one of the great, flexible artists of our age.
My favorite tracks on the record are those with other pianists Angelica Sanchez and Craig Taborn. Her give and take with these players on the same instrument is remarkable, almost psychic. Taborn’s jaw-dropping trio at the Wexner Center some years back should give some of you a hint what his systems and predilections are but my favorite record of his, Avenging Angel, one of my records of the year a few years ago, helps make this one of my most anticipated shows of the fall. That voice jousting and dancing with Davis (who’s made my shows of the year list and come damn close on other occasions), those four hands building structures out of chaos and finding the chaos living in the heart of the pristine. That’s going to be something astonishing.
If you’re ready to be astonished, don’t miss this. If you have an appetite for piano playing that uses every significant element of jazz history, sometimes as a foundation, and sometimes as kindling, don’t miss this. If you’re ready to see jazz musicians telling wholly new stories, make sure you’re at the Wexner Center. Another home run in a series of home runs from their jazz program, this has the potential to be the greatest one of all.