The 10:30 PM Studio series, often the place to hear more experimental music with an edge, also got off to a strong start with New York-based pianist Kris Davis and her quartet, featuring saxophonist Tony Malaby, bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Jeff Davis. Kris originally hails from Calgary, Canada and, like Jens Winther, this performance is the first of a series of dates at jazz festivals across the country. Operating with the tried-and-true philosophy that touring new material is the best way to prepare it for recording, Davis will be heading into the studio immediately after the tour to record her follow-up to The Slightest Shift (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2006) and Lifespan (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2004). Davis’ quartet has remain unchanged since Lifespan, permitting it to grow organically and meet the increasingly rigorous demands of the pianist’s writing. Opening the set with the far left-of-center “My Resurrection,” the two Davises created an aggressive pulse, with Kris literally hammering dissonant block chords with her closed fists, Cecil Taylor-style. But interspersed with this more angular passage was a softer, more abstract passage during which Malaby’s tenor and Opsvik’s arco bass meshed seamlessly, at times in unison, elsewhere creating dissonant but strangely appealing harmonies. Davis’ music has often more closely resembled a kind of new music chamber aesthetic, despite the more jazz-centric instrumentation. Remaining more in the background and leaving Malaby as the more dominant voice, she would often develop repetitive, minimalist patterns that evolved so gradually as to be near- imperceptible. Her own approach to improvisation, whether soft or aggressive, felt more akin to careful consideration than reckless abandon. Malaby, an underappreciated talent who has, nevertheless, been garnering increasing recognition through his work with bigger names such as pianist Fred Hersch and bassist Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, possesses the same breadth of extended techniques that made altoist John Zorn’s solo performance at Victoriaville’s 2007 FIMAV festival so compelling. Multiphonics, percussive abstracts, odd blowing techniques and more make up Malaby’s larger sonic palette. But, for a saxophonist of inimitable if not limitless technique, Malaby’s focus is always on the music and, like his band mates, the ensemble rather than himself. The biggest surprise of the performance was Jeff Davis’ kit work. Always an inventive player, let loose in a live context he was a veritable fountain of ideas, a more assertive American counterpart to Canadian drummer Dylan Van Der Schyff. From textural work to the almost rock edge of “Black Tunnel,” Davis completed an outstanding triumvirate of stand-out drummers from this first day’s three performances. Opsvik, like pianist Davis, appeared generally more content to function in the background yet, like Kris, his contribution to the overall fabric of the material was no less significant. The Studio performance was far and away the most challenging of the day, but rewarded those who stayed ample rewards and the opportunity to hear new music in relatively germinal form.


John Kelman