Kris Davis’s style is dry and blunt and authoritative, and still changing. At 31 she’s worked in a circle of musicians including the saxophonists Tony Malaby and Ingrid Laubrock, the bassists John Hébert and Eivind Opsvik, and the drummer Jeff Davis, her former husband. Her playing uses space and tension and contrast; it always has an interior plan and doesn’t leap at you to show you how hip it is. It’s very open, but it comes with rules.
“A lot of times I’ll try to write as little as possible,” she told me. “I want to write things that guide musicians through a certain idea but not control what they’re actually doing. A lot of times I don’t have a specific way in mind that something should sound.”
Growing up in Calgary, Alberta, she’d studied classical music at the Royal Conservatory, but found out about jazz in high school. She got into it slowly, transcribing Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett and eventually studying it at the University of Toronto. And in general she has taken strong but measured steps since. You can hear her small-group conception really come together on “Good Citizen,” from 2010, and then become more abstract in her work with the remarkable trio Paradoxical Frog, with Ms. Laubrock and the drummer Tyshawn Sorey.
She heard free jazz pretty much for the first time around the age of 20 at the Banff International Jazz Workshop, where she met Mr. Malaby and his wife, the pianist Angelica Sanchez, who would later become important friends and collaborators. Moving to New York in 2001 she got up to speed very gradually; after her first album, “Lifespan,” she changed her style completely.
“I decided not to play chords anymore, just to play lines,” she said. “I started improvising that way. Those left-hand chords are such a jazz-piano sound; I didn’t want it to sound that way. So I rarely play chords, and I rarely double the bass line.”
More recently she completed a degree in classical composition from City College in New York.
Two years ago she toured Portugal playing solo concerts, then made a solo recording, “Aeriol Piano,” which has just come out on the Clean Feed label. It’s seriously good, a kind of logical crossing of Morton Feldman and Mr. Jarrett, with her own touch and strong sense of compositional organization framing the soloing. It includes a version of the standard “All the Things You Are”; she comes at it in her all-lines fashion, implying melody and harmony and finally making the tune clear at the end.
by Ben Ratliff – NY Times