Massive Threads, Kris Davis
Canadian-born pianist Kris Davis has carved out a singular path on today’s jazz/free music scene. Having released a dozen records in various instrumental configurations, the composer nurtures a deeply ingrained attraction to sonic exploration, and, more specifically, the tonal variety her instrument is capable of. On this solo album from 2013, the pianist takes a deep dive into freewheeling abstraction, breaking down ideas and melodic motifs, embracing silences as springboards for improvisation, and basically seizing the chance the solo format offers to bounce off of her own improvising. The album hovers between cumulative improvisation where simple ideas grow into sprawling deconstructions and introspective takes on familiar standards, such as Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence”, slowly dissected and reconfigured into a new vehicle that still stays true to the rhythmic fragmentation of Monk’ tune. “Desolation and Despair” probes the depths of silence, sprinkling in high notes that come as percussive punctuations over the dark chords in the low end. Kris Davis has made her mark as a jazz and avant-garde music performer and composer, and this album feels like a condensed meditation on her impressive career at that point. It’s about weaving together those “massive threads” resulting from multiple collaborations with like-minded peers – Craig Taborn, Ingrid Laubrock, John Zorn, Tony Malaby, Tyshawn Sorey to name a few – and bringing out a voice equally inspired by Cecil Taylor and Claude Debussy. The eponymous “Massive Threads” is a shining example of that, stringing together several moods seamlessly, and exploring the full range of the piano along the way. Apocalyptic clusters segue into a melody that gradually shifts down the low register and back up. “Dancing Marlins” kicks off like a tentative rain patter, stumbling along in fits and starts but somehow dancing to its own pulse. The pianist does not refrain from repeating high-pitched notes for contrasting effect and it just feels right.
The opening track is called “Ten Exorcists” and does sound as if conjured up from a trance ritual, building up from epileptic drum-like patterns into cascading ripples across the keyboard. While the pianist utilizes some extended techniques – essentially hammering and tapping – the music remains anchored in structured forms and song-like durations.
There is a certain humbleness to this project as the composer/pianist takes on a wealth of music and draws from it the elements most instrumental in her continuing creative growth. Her most remarkable achievement on this solo opus is her ability to connect the dots between extremely different musical universes.
The appropriately titled “Slow Growing” closes out the album on a quiet and suspenseful note, never really developing but suggesting more adventures to come. An important and certainly underrated voice.
There have been quite a few albums since Massive Threads. Check out her website and enjoy the videos. https://krisdavis.net/
Here is an EPK for Kris Davis’ upcoming album Diatom Ribbons, out on October 4th. https://vimeo.com/344184099
Suggested listening for a quick introduction to her work:
Duopoly, Good Citizen, Paradoxical Frog, Massive Threads, Octopus (duo with Craig Taborn), Rye Eclipse, and a host of greatly titled albums