Rising Star Pianist in Downbeat Magazine

“Open to surprise”

THE WORD “OPENNESS” CROPS UP OFTEN IN A CONVERSATION WITH PIANIST KRIS DAVIS, WHO USES THE TERM WHILE REFERRING TO MUSIC, AND TO LIFE IN GENERAL. REFLECTING ON HER 2016 CD/DVD SET DUOPOLY (PYROCLASTIC) WHICH FEATURES HER IN DUETS WITH EIGHT DIFFERENT PARTNERSSHE SAID: “THE APPEAL OF DUO PLAYING IS THE
OPENNESS OF IT, WHERE THE MUSIC FEELS LIKE IT CAN GO ANYWHERE. THEN THERE IS THE CONVERSATIONAL INTIMACY OF IT, LIKE TWO PEOPLE TALKING, WHERE THERES THIS SPACE FOR GIVE-AND-TAKE.”

For her interview with DownBeat, the Calgary native decided to meet us at a café in the Park Slope neighborhood of her former home borough of Brooklyn, just before giving a private lesson to a teenage student. Davis, 37, moved not long ago to the Hudson Valley community of Ossining, north of New York City, with her husband, guitarist Nate Radley, and their 4-year-old son, Benji.

“It was becoming impossible to sustain a life as a parent and a musician in New York,” she explained. “Our lives are so much easier in Ossining day-to-day, and there’s room for Benji to play outside. I feel lighter overall, with more mental and physical space and time to compose and experiment.”

Although her soft-spoken demeanor and appreciation for suburban gardening might belie the fact, Davis is every bit the driven, focused, prolific artist, very much a modernist. Prior to Duopoly, she released arresting albums as a leader in solo, trio, quartet, quintet and octet formats over a dozen years or so, not to mention adventurous discs with trio Paradoxical Frog (with saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and drummer Tyshawn Sorey) and her contributions to albums by the likes of saxophonist Tony Malaby and bassist Eric Revis.

Duopoly captured Davis performing alongside a dizzying variety of partners: saxophonist Tim Berne, clarinetist Don Byron, guitarists Bill Frisell and Julian Lage, pianists Angelica Sanchez and Craig Taborn, and drummers Marcus Gilmore and Billy Drummond.

“Everybody on the record is involved with different aspects of jazz—but with the common thread of each being a creative musician and a great listener,” Davis said about the Duopoly lineup. Although some interactions were trickier than she expected—it took 12 takes to find happy common ground with Bryon on “Prelude To A Kiss”—others clicked right away. “It was amazing how easy it was to play duo with Bill Frisell,” she said. “We did two takes of a tune, then three improvs—all in a half-hour.”

The session with Taborn went so well that the two embarked on a rare duo-piano tour. “With duo piano, there’s the basic challenge of staying out of each other’s way,” she said, laughing. “But we never discussed the music that much, just working it out on the gig. We talked instead about everything from microtonal death-metal to Geri Allen.” Davis is prepping a live album from the dozen shows with Taborn, for release on her Pyroclastic Records imprint.

Reflecting on Davis’ qualities, Taborn echoed what many DownBeat critics were surely thinking when they voted her the winner of the category Rising Star–Piano. “Kris has the mind of a composer but an improviser’s soul,” Taborn said. “Her music has so much order and design, even as her temperament is open to surprise and challenge. Also, her playing is much more responsive to context than it is to stylistic tendencies. Kris is really a fearless improviser—and the truth is that there aren’t as many of those these days as one might think.”

Davis recently composed a book of classical- style pieces for solo piano. Pianist Rory Cowal has recorded these for an album to be released by New World Records next year, and Davis will be publishing the pieces as sheet music via Pyroclastic. Like the ambitious ventures that resulted in her octet album Save Your Breath (Clean Feed) and the audiovisual release of Duopoly, this new project for piano was supported by the Shifting Foundation, whose David Breskin has become an “indispensable” catalyst for Davis as a producer.

Of late, Davis has been playing music from John Zorn’s book of bagatelles, with a quartet that also includes Sorey, guitarist Mary Halvorson and bassist Drew Gress. And, inspired by the example of Dave Douglas’s Greenleaf Music, Davis aims to offer a subscription series via Pyroclastic, releasing something monthly—whether it’s a studio album, live recording, video, scores or an interview. “I’m looking forward to opening up the format for releasing creative work. Openness creates room for more possibilities.”

—Bradley Bambarger
Downbeat August 2017

European Tour- Zorn Bagatelles, Eric Revis quartet and solo performance

Zorn Bagatelles:

March 30- Elbphilharmonie (Hamburg, Germany)

April 2- Philharmonie de Paris (Paris, France)

Solo Performance:

April 4- Centro D’Arte (Padova, Italy)

Eric Revis Quartet with Ken Vandermark, Chad Taylor and Kris Davis

April 5- Alter Schlachthof (Wels)

April 6- Porgy and Bess (Vienna)

April 7- Stockwerk (Graz)

April 8- AMR (Geneva)

April 9- Jamboree (Barcelona)

April 10- Jazzit (Salzburg)

April 11- Cankarajev don, Klub CD (Ljubliana)

April 12- Bimhuis (Amsterdam)

April 13- Lantaren Venster (Rotterdam)

Solo piano Festival/Tour and John Zorn’s Bagatelles

The Jazz Gallery’s Alone Together piano Festival happens on April 22/23rd and should prove to be an interesting night of solo piano performances by Fabian Almazan, Aaron Parks, Theo Hill, Luis Perdomo and myself.  I go on a solo European tour between May 11-19 (see calendar).

Also, I’m very excited to be playing John’s Zorn’s Bagetelles again in May- first at the Stone on may 3rd in NYC and then at the Victoriaville festival (FIMAV) on May 21st.  Joining me will be Mary Halvorson, Drew Gress and Tyshawn Sorey!

 

Album releases and concerts in 2016- Newport Jazz Festival, Michael Formanek, Eric Revis, John Zorn and Craig Taborn

Very excited to announce that I will perform at the Newport Jazz festival in July this year! I will be performing twice- a solo concert and with Eric Revis’ quartet with Ken Vandermark and Nasheet Waits!

In March, Eric Revis’ new trio record is coming out on Cleanfeed with Eric, myself and Gerald Cleaver. We tour Europe in March (John Betsch plays drums)…see here for dates and locations.  I found an excellent quote from Branford Marsalis about Eric in a recent Jazz Times article: “It’s not so much a big sound, it’s a big beat. He plays with a certain kind of physical authority you don’t find very often anymore.” So true!

Last week I play at Winter Jazz Fest with Michael Formaneks’ new big band, Ensemble Kolossus. His album is coming out on ECM in a few weeks; the music is breathtaking and I’m honored to be a part of this incredible ensemble. I highly recommend taking a listen to this album!

I’m excited to announce that after three years of composing, I have completed a set of new solo works for piano (commissioned by The Shifting Foundation) and will premier the works at the Jazz Gallery in April.  These are short, through composed pieces and I plan to offer the score to each piece as a download through my website.  I will also premier some of the works on a solo European tour in May.

A few months ago I played some of John Zorn’s Bagatelles at the Stone.  This project gave way to a new quartet with myself, Mary Halvorson, Drew Gress and Tyshawn Sorey.  We will play Zorns’ bagatelles at some festivals this year and next year (TBA!) and at the Village Vanguard in August along with some other excellent bands (my first time playing at the Vanguard!).

Thanks to the Shifting Foundation, Craig Taborn and I will perform a series of two piano concerts in the fall, touring the US and Canada for two weeks in October.  We played together this past year for a duos recording I made (more about this soon) and it was one of those rare moments that felt like we’ve been playing together for years.  So excited for this project and a big thanks to The Shifting Foundation for making this possible.