Monday, March 26, 2018

CD Review: Kris Davis & Craig Taborn - Octopus

Kris Davis & Craig Taborn

Kris Davis and Craig Taborn may or may not utilize all 20 of their collective fingers simultaneously throughout Octopus. But the sounds they create together often reveal the dense qualities that result when that many fingers are put into use. Whether they're taking turns playing a Cecil Taylor-esque idea in "Chatterbox" (the title is appropriate) while the other cuts loose on top of that idea, or they slowly expand on one of Taborn's three simple "Interruptions" pieces, the music feels dense yet absorbing.

The six tracks were recorded in the fall of 2016 during a tour the two pianists staged together. They hit the road due to the immediate rapport they both felt while recording Davis' Duopoly album, a series of duets with her and eight different musicians. It was the first time she and Taborn had ever played together, and they felt a collective energy as soon as they started.

Taborn and Davis blend so well that sometimes it's hard to tell where one player's part ends and the other picks up. For clarity, Davis is panned towards the left and Taborn to the right. (Her prepared piano ostinatos in "Ossining" gives her away for anyone not as able to separate their voices.) He initially sustains a series of clusters in "Interruptions One" while Davis runs freely. But as it builds, low notes are added to reinforce the chord-like suggestions, and they seem to be coming from Davis, even as her upper register playing seems like its overlapping with ideas from her partner.  Another "Interruption" is blended with Carla Bley's "Sing Me Softly Of the Blues," though once again, the distinction between the two - and the line between composition and improvisation - becomes a vague division.

Davis says in her liner notes that each night's performance was different, with sections of the compositions frequently abandoned in favor of improvised sections that became more and more expansive. Going on that idea, listening to the album might be more rewarding if the track titles are disregarded and it's treated as a spontaneous set of music, created through an intensive dialogue. That way, we're not left wondering,for instance, how much of Sun Ra's "Love in Outer Space" Davis and Taborn actually draw upon. Although it would be interesting to hear and compare these recordings to some of the other ones that Ron Saint Germain recorded each night.

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