December 8, 2013

Playlist Week of 2013-12-07

Kris Davis - Massive Threads

* Stockhausen: Prozession (Kontarsky, Stockhausen, et al.) (Candide LP)
* Charles Mingus: Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus (Impulse! CD)
* Charles Mingus: Mingus Plays Piano (Impulse! CD)
* John Coltrane: Live Trane: The European Tours (d.3-4) (Pablo 7CD)
* Dave Holland: Prism (Dare2 CD)
* Cecil McBee: Mutima (Strata East LP)
* McCoy Tyner: Song Of The New World (Milestone LP)
* McCoy Tyner: Fly With The Wind (Milestone LP)
* McCoy Tyner: Atlantis (Milestone 2LP)
* Charles Lloyd: Forest Flower: Charles Lloyd At Monterey (Atlantic LP)
* Chick Corea: Return To Forever (ECM LP)
* John McLaughlin: Johnny McLaughlin, Electric Guitarist (Columbia LP)
* Stanley Clarke: School Days (Epic/Friday Music LP)
* Julian Priester Pepo Mtoto: Love, Love (ECM LP)
* Tom Rainey Trio: Cornelia St. Café, Brooklyn, NY 2013-10-19 (AUD WAV)
* LARK (Ingrid Laubrock/Tom Rainey/Kris Davis/Ralph Alessi): LARK (Skirl CD)
* Kris Davis: Capricorn Climber (Clean Feed CD)
* Kris Davis: Massive Threads (Thirsty Ear CD)
* Dawn Of Midi: Dysnomia (Thirsty Ear CD)
* Automatic Man: Automatic Man (Island LP)
* Daryl Hall & John Oates: Do What You Want, Be What You Are (d.1-3) (Legacy 4CD)†/‡
* I Am The Center: Private Press New Age Music in America 1950-1990 (LITA 3LP)†/‡
* John Fahey: Let Go (Varrick LP)
* Grateful Dead: Family Dog At The Great Highway 4/18/70 (GDP/Rhino HDCD)
* Grateful Dead: Rocking The Cradle: Egypt 1978 (selections) GDP/Rhino 2+1HDCD/DVD)
* Pink Floyd/Grateful Dead, et al.: Zabriskie Point (Original Soundtrack) (MGM/Watertower 2LP)
* Robert Wyatt: Rock Bottom (Virgin LP)
* Gong: You (Virgin LP)
* Goblin: Tour 2013 EP (Death Waltz EP)
* Brian Eno: Here Come The Warm Jets (Island LP)
* Phil Collins: …But Seriously (Atlantic/Audio Fidelity CD)
* Toto: Toto (Columbia LP)
* Television: Marquee Moon (Elektra/Rhino LP)
* R.E.M.: Chronic Town (IRS LP)
* Gastr Del Sol: Mirror Repair (Drag City EP)
* Earth: Pentastar: In The Style Of Demons (Sub Pop LP)
* Robert Pollard: Blazing Gentlemen (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Yo La Tengo: “Super Kiwi” (Matador 7”)
* Boards Of Canada: Twoism (Warp EP) †
* Boards Of Canada: In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country (Warp EP) †
* Boards Of Canada: Trans Canada Highway (Warp EP) †
* Shpongle: Museum of Conciousness (Twisted 2LP)
* Baroness: Yellow & Green (Relapse 2CD)
* Locrian: The Clearing & The Final Epoch (Relapse 2CD)
* Locrian: Return To Annihilation (Relapse CD)



Although pianist Kris Davis has been active in the Downtown New York avant-jazz scene for more than a decade, it is only recently that her work has been consistently documented on record. In fact, 2013 is something of a breakout year for Davis, appearing as she does on a slew of terrific albums released in the past twelve months, including Ingrid Laubrock's latest Anti-House record, Strong Place (Intakt); Capricorn Climber (Clean Feed), featuring her own quintet featuring Laubrock, Mat Maneri, Trevor Dunn and Tom Rainey; and the debut CD from LARK (Skirl), an improvisational collective with Laubrock, Rainey and Ralph Alessi. Her most recent is a solo set out last month on Thirsty Ear’s Blue Series titled, Massive Threads—and, wow, it is a stunner!

Even with all this recent exposure, Massive Threads is not quite what I expected. The opening track, “Ten Exorcists,” utilizes a prepared piano and machine-like, repetitive rhythms to summon up the sound the buzzing of kalimbas and murmuring log drums while acrobatic right-hand figures dance around the hypnotic, splintered groove. This reminds me a little bit of what Amino Neyamani is doing on Dawn of Midi’s Dysnomia (another fantastic recent release on Thirsty Ear). Similarly evoking electronica’s trance-inducing state while remaining disciplined and thoroughly acoustic, Davis subdivides the beat into infinitesimal segments with near-superhuman expertise, with the underlying pulse variously receding and coming together as the piece gradually unfolds. Even within the wide-ranging realm of the current Downtown avant-garde, this is far away from anyone’s definition of “jazz”—and that is part of what makes it so interesting.

Of course, Davis is a classically trained pianist and composer, who has been privately exploring the works of Gyorgi Ligeti, Luciano Berio and other ultra-modernists and these multifaceted influences can be heard on tracks like “Intermission Music, “Dancing Marlins” and “Leaf-Like.” Elsewhere, quiet mediations like “Desolation and Despair” and “Slow Growing” display a profound sensitivity amidst thick harmonic complexity, effectively transcending such arbitrary delineations between “jazz” and so-called “classical” chamber music. I call it "Art" with a capital-A.

The eleven-minute title track is the centerpiece of the album. Originally composed for six pianists, Davis sounds like she has twelve hands as she executes the astonishingly complex layers of rhythm, like Conlon Nancarrow’s player piano made flesh. At times, what she is doing sounds physically impossible, with every note cleanly and exquisitely articulated. Then, just as you think the piece has ended, the music slows down in a trick of metrical modulation, moving smoothly into plaintive yet densely harmonized block chords, which bring to mind the towering tone clusters of Carl Ruggles. This is simply some of the most amazing piano playing I have ever heard—in any genre. Her impeccable technique redefines the notion of virtuosity, never getting in your face with a barrage of notes yet demonstrating astonishing independence of hands and fingers, bringing out the latent melodies in the chord voicings, while also maintaining perfect control of the damper pedal. As the volume level and intensity increases, a massive resonance builds up precipitously but never overwhelms the subtle inner details. “Massive Threads” needs to be heard to be believed.

A rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence” reinforces the notion that this is indeed a “jazz” album, regardless of what it might sound like to new ears. But it is Monk as re-conceived by Morton Feldman: sparse, quiet and beautifully dissonant, gentle clouds of notes floating on a barely perceptible beat, only cohering once in a while around the well-loved and road-worn tune. Again, her sense of touch is uncanny, never rising above a mezzo piano yet imbued with subtle dynamic shadings, which unveil the cantabile melody within. If you think these old standards are played out, listen to this and be amazed.

Thirsty Ear has really been knocking it out of the park this year, with no less than three releases which will easily make my top-ten of 2013, including the Dawn of Midi’s Dysnomia, Matthew Shipp’s latest solo set, Piano Sutras—and now Kris Davis’s Massive Threads. All three reimagine what “jazz” can be in the 21st Century while transcending the boundaries of any genre.

1 comment:

Sam said...

I love Kris Davis's playing with Anti-House; can't wait to check out "Massive Threads."

Here are my lists from last week:

Playlist 2013-12-09:

*Pauline Oliveros: “A Little Noise in the System (Moog System)” (from Anthology of Noise & electronic Music/First A-Chronology 1921-2001, disc 2)
*Armstrong, Louis: The Complete Louis Armstrong Decca Sessions (1935-1946) (selections)
*Art Ensemble of Chicago: The Alternate Express
*Anthony Braxton: Nine Compositions (DVD) 2003 (tracks 1-5)
*Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet & 7-tette: Navigation (The Complete Firehouse 12 Recordings)
*Chick Corea: The Vigil
*Miles Davis: The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings of the Miles Davis Quintet 1965 to 1968 (discs 2, 3)
*Mary Halvorson-Ingrid Laubrock Duo (2013-03-21) Essen, Germany (CDR)
*Roscoe Mitchell Septet: 1976-02-08 Studio Rivbea, NY (CDR)
*New Loft: 2013-11-04 “Betty’s Escape” (wav)
*New Ting Ting Loft: 2013-12-02 “Not Breaking the 43-Minute Barrier” (CDR)
*Tony Oxley: Ichnos
*Terje Rypdal Trio: 1973-04-04 Bremen, Germany (CDR) (disc 1)
*Stark Reality: Acting, Thinking, Feeling (disc 2)
*Subtle Body Transmission Orchestra: 2013-10-05 Sonic Circuits Festival, Washington DC (wav)
*Sun Ra: 1985-12-14 Live at Club Lingerie, Hollywood (disc 1)
*John Zorn: The Dreamers
*Lily Allen: Alright, Still
*Allman Brothers: At Fillmore East (side 2)
*Beach Boys: Studio Rehearsal Sessions, 1967 (boot CDR)
*Scott Brookman: Smellicopter
*De La Soul: First Serve
*Faust: Faust IV (disc 2)
*Fela: Monkey Banana
*Tex Goldstein: Horse In The Teepee (Bandcamp)
*Grateful Dead: Live/Dead (side 3)
*Jupiter Maca: A Setima Enfervescencia
*Menahan Street Band: Make the Road by Walking
*Andy Partridge: Fuzzy Warbles 6
*Various artists: Deep Soul Treasures (cassette compilation) (selections)
*Various artists: OHM+: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music, 1948-1980 (disc 3)
*Various artists: The Rough Guide to Psychedelic Brazil
*Kit Watkins: Labyrinth
*XTC: Skylarking

Reading List 2013-12-09:

*Barth, John. Every Third Thought (reread/started)
*Moore, Steven. The Novel: An Alternative History, 1600-1800 (finished)
*Hyde, Lewis. Common as Air (in progress)
*Weldon, Michael J. Psychotronic Video Guide (in progress)