SKM (Stephen Gauci, Michael Bisio, Kris Davis – Three (CF 189)
We don’t get much in the way of jazz here at Chain D.L.K., but trio SKM (Stephen Gauci- tenor saxophone; Kris Davis ‘ piano; Michael Bisio ‘ double bass) is a free jazz collaboration with some very noteworthy moments. All have impressive credentials in the field of jazz with numerous collaborations and recordings under their belts. The big difference on ‘Three’ is the lack of drums allowing for a much freer improvisational atmosphere. In fact, all tracks are improvised, except #6 (‘Now’) by Michael Bisio.
The result of this collaboration is a wide variety of expression from track to track where although the instrumentation is obviously the same, the form is not. On ‘The End Must Always Come,’ which opens the album, Davis take the lead with a wildly rhapsodic improv that spurs on Bisio’s bass to counter from every angle. It’s almost like sparring the way the instruments dance around each other and Guaci’s sax doesn’t even enter until the 2 Â½ minute point, tentatively at first, then more definitively as the piece progresses. Davis seems to get temporarily stuck in this one repetitive musical figure that has the effect of propelling Guaci’s sax all over the place. Davis later employs the same technique to actually soothe the sax and wind things down to its conclusion.
‘Like a Phantom, a Dream’ begins with a beautiful sax solo from Gauci and even when the piano and bass come in (and the sax drops out), seems almost melodically conventional. Lots of extended runs here move very quickly eventually rejoined by the sax. Davis drops out and the piece turns quite moody with just sax and bass. The moodiness is replaced by agitation for awhile, before it turns back to being moody at the end. I really kind of grooved on this one.
‘Something From Nothing’ proves that you don’t need a drummer to carry a rhythm as piano, bass and sax provide muted percussion sounds. To a large degree, it seems like an exercise in creative restraint, and things only show any sign of busting loose when the 9:36 track is two-thirds over. Still, it never quite gets out of hand, and is interesting from start to finish.
‘Groovin’ for the Hell of It’ is an oddly enigmatic piece that changes directions more times than a soccer ball on a football field. At one point when Davis starts pounding out these offbeat dissonant chords, it really seems to shake things up. It’s hard to quantify this one; when Davis gets going on another one of her repetitive cycles toward the end, she is nearly alone in her own world.
‘Still So Beautiful’ is a lovely abstract ballad that may seem loose but the playing is tightly interconnected as the instruments weave an amazing braid around each other. Bisio’s composition ‘Now’ is the most unusual piece on the album, with a mad arco technique that exhorts all manner of twisted sounds from is double bass. It hardly seemed as long as the 5:20 it is. ‘No Reason To or Not To’ is a sparse balladesque moody piece that finds Davis’s piano plunking around percussively in the lower register to begin with, while Bisio’s bass and Gauci’s sax tentatively dance around each other to establish a motif. Bisio is the more active of the two even though he often plays off Gauci’s sparse riffing. At this point things are rife with possibilities. It is well over three minutes before Kris’s piano decides to enter with some counter-melody, and it gets into a pretty cool post-Bop groove, courtesy of Bisio’s trad-jazz baseline. Gauci’s sax work is smooth as silk, reminiscent of Ornette Coleman’s more soulful and introspective work. Things really heat up and take off at half past six with in all directions divergent yet converges back together for the balladesque finale. ‘Just To Be Heard’ begins with sax and bass in a riffing race while Davis throws in the occasional chordal fragment or phrased accent. Bisio’s running like a wildman possessed propelling Gauci’s agitated sax into a region of mewling squeals and squalls while the piano keeps knocking at the door of this melee right up til the end.
The album is hard to describe in words. It has a lot more to do with musical feeling than anything purely technical or aesthetic. There are moments of absolute brilliance on it, and at other times you get the impression the musicians are searching for something not easily found. Through most of it Michael Bisio exedues an intuitive confidence and direction I’ve not often heard from a bassist (except maybe Charlie Haden) in this type of free jazz collaboration. Kudos to Kris Davis too for her willingness to take risks and skirt the fringe of the oblique. As for Gauci, I got the impression that at times he was holding back, perhaps for good reason to let the other players take a more dominant role. Still, there is no question that his work here is impressive when he wants to step out, and supportive when he deems it best to lay back. A challenging listen by any means, lovers of free jazz should find this quite engaging. I look forward to their next collaboration together.