Pianist Kris Davis is a Vancouver-born, Toronto-educated New York resident. The Slightest Shift is her debut as a leader and it’s impressive. It’s an assured and individual mix of freedom and soulfulness that looks not only to jazz’s foremost experimentalists but to adventurous 20th century composers like Bartok and Ligeti. The band virtually ignore conventional instrumental roles in a quartet setting — all the players play rhythm and melody, and there is usually no fixed key to determine the many improv sections. If there is a “chief melodist” it’s sax player Tony Malaby, who looks to Sam Rivers’ fluid, challenging phrasing to float on and dive into the rhythmic thicket of the other three players. After listening to this disc several times, I still can’t get a bead on what Davis is doing — a bit of Cecil Taylor? Alexander Von Schlippenbach? Even the liner note writer acknowledges as much. This is a compliment, as it guarantees repeat play with open ears. She doesn’t resort to pounding the piano or grand, doom-y pronouncements to go for avant-garde cred, she can both colour in the ensemble work and lead it into more composed, Monk-ish territory with ease.

David Dacks