by Tim Niland
Pianist and composer Kris Davis is developing into an iconoclast in her her own right much like the truly unique Henry Threadgill whom I spoke about in the last post. Threadgill once recorded an album with four flutes and four basses, and this particular audacious album features Davis on piano, Jim Black on drums, Gary Versace on organ and accordion, Nate Radley on guitar along with Ben Goldberg, Oscar Noriega, Andrew Bishop and Joachim Badenhorst on bass clarinets. “Union Forever” has a bass clarinet that slowly opens followed by piano and drums which move in more firmly. Organ and piano probe across the mysterious musical landscape, looking for footing on an uneven soundplane, with clarinets in waves washing across the keyboards and drums. Fast smears of organ, piano and drums take the music to its finish building faster unsettling: out of control, yet enjoying the ride. There are raw slabs of music like ominous moans in the night on “Jumping Over Your Shadow” where crushing drums push against a wall of bass clarinets, and funky high pitched organ navigates the thicket. There is a bass with a ripe jazzy solo that is raw and exciting, accompanied by excellent an avant/free jazz touch on the drums by Jim Black. “Always Leave Them (Wanting More) has a spare opening for piano and accordion which develops an anxious chirping sound. Rippling sounds of piano, accordion and drums create a hypnotic fantasia that is intoxicating and hard to handle. It can develop into mood music, but for a deeply thoughtful and introspective mood. Gaining speed, everybody is in tuned with each other on another plane, where the music is either completely free or fiendishly complex. One clarinet breaks free for powerful squalls and swoops. “Whirly Swirly” has heavy bass and honks – funky! Snarls of guitar, droplets of piano, percussively, Who’s is playing bass? clarinet? organ? Regardless, it is awesome, and with stinging guitar and drums, they are a rock band that could take on all challengers. Sneaky (snarky) piano, then the clarinets call things to order. But the guitar and drums cannot be contained – fast! Davis’s piano means shift each section, in this case to moody organ. Sullen territory 1/2 way through heavier sound drums and clarinets heavy and shrill, exciting but daunting. Thunderous piano and drumming squealing clarinet – free section to the end. There is a hair raising howl to open “The Ghost of Your Previous Fuckup” (now and forever my favorite song title.) Dynamic switch back to piano and drums, and a great piano centered improvisation by Ms. Davis, who is extremely confident in her interplay with drums and clarinets, absolutely pounding the low end of the piano, like a mad scientist grinning maniacally with unbridled power. There is a hard shift to a clarinet solo changing pace alone joined by subtle guitar, keyboards and drums and clarinets build a fuller sound getting heavier before shifting back again for a gentle piano led finale. Any feeble powers of narrative leave me on “Save Your Breath” (truly sage advice) which is very hard to explain: the music is very slow with cinematic smears of organ, haunted and atmospheric. Things build achingly, nearly excruciatingly slowly and barely seem to resolve at all. Super heavy stuff and way out of my league. Regardless, the album as a whole is a wonder to listen to, the compositions are first rate and the use of the unusual lineup of musicians works very well.