Kris Davis & Craig Taborn: Octopus — ‘single intelligence’

Core differences are at their clearest as percussive bell-like tones and rococo lines complement lyrical ripples

Kris Davis & Craig Taborn


(Pyroclastic Records)

There are times when the criss-crossing lines and rumbling full-piano chords captured on this dazzling live piano duet do indeed conjure a single creature with many arms. Even when playing at full stretch, pianists Kris Davis and Craig Taborn deliver the control and sense of purpose of a single intelligence.

The album opens gently enough with Taborn delivering the scattered notes and harmonised cadences of his compositional fragment “Interruptions One”. A short silence signals the theme is complete, and acts as a cue for Kris Davis to join the fray. As the piece progresses, notes scamper to the upper range over low register rumbles while lightly voiced chords and forceful tremolos add texture and bite. As the improvisation fades with a gracious lilt of interlocking rhythm, it is hard to tell the pianists apart.

The sparse interplay of Davis’s “Ossining” comes next, and here the composer’s stark prepared piano gives us a clue: her deadened notes and tick-tock rhythms clearly contrast with Taborn’s loops and fancies. But when the pianists go at it hammer and tongs and riotously swap clusters, thumps and rumbles on Davis’s well-named “Chatterbox”, distinctions fade.

The duo present two covers. The first, Carla Bley’s delicate “Sing Me Softly of the Blues”, builds to a peak before segueing seamlessly into the steady tempo and sturdy single-note lines of Taborn’s “Interruptions Two”.

The second, an elegiac reading of Sun Ra’s “Love in Outer Space”, closes the album. Here, core differences are at their clearest as Taborn’s percussive bell-like tones and rococo lines complement Davis’s nuanced voicings and lyrical ripples with an impressive sense of common cause.

Such mutual understanding does not come overnight. The tracks on this album were culled from a 12-date US tour, while Davis and Taborn delivered the highlight duet on Davis’s well-received 2016 Duopoly album. Quite a feat given the likes of guitarist Bill Frisell and saxophonist Tim Berne were also featured.

The Financial Times