Label: Pyroclastic Records, 2018

Lineup – Kris Davis: piano; Craig Taborn: piano.

wo of the most formidable pianists and master improvisers of today’s jazz, Kris Davis and Craig Taborn, let their endless creativity fly high with a live recording session that comprises magnetic originals and ingenious reimaginations of pieces from Carla Bley and Sun Ra.

The idea came up after the studio collaboration between the two musicians for Davis’ last album Duopoly (Pyroclastic Records, 2016). Their unmistakable rapport triggered a series of live performances across the country, including the University of Michigan, the Wexner Center, and the UC San Diego, where the pieces of Octopus were recorded.

Opening with whispering invocations, Taborn’s “Interruption One” escalates into thoughtful reflections, ultimately inflating through gusts of melodic whirlwinds supported by regular sparse chords and tense strokes anchored in the lower register. Inexorable, these are consequentially transferred to high-pitched zones to work in counterpoint with other premeditated phrases or extemporaneous ideas. The finale includes an erudite cyclic movement with 14 beats per measure that easily catches the ear.

The following two pieces, “Ossining” and “Chatterbox”, were penned by Davis and are very dissimilar in nature. While the former, inspired by her recent move to the Hudson Valley, combines metallic timbres of prepared piano, smothered ticking sounds, and contrapuntal ostinatos in order to enrich the pulse and texture that lead to a serene finale, the latter sounds like a verbose abstraction of a bluesy swing song built through dense and expressionistic maneuvers delivered at a busy pace. Despite the free posture at the surface, tempo and coordination are addressed with unmistakable intuition, a fact that is noticeable again on “Interruption Three”, where the duo’s go-getting demeanor creates an untamed groove armored with agitated phrases and swift harmonic sequences. You’ll also find shrill trills and lively spirals dancing atop.

The 14-minute rendition of Carla Bley’s “Sing Me Softly of the Blues” is drowned in pure experimentalism and comes attached to “Interruption Two”, traversing the realms of classical and avant-jazz.

The album closes with a devoted version of Sun Ra’s “Love in the Outer Space”, whose slow awakening in tones of classical throws us into a state of dreamy idleness before falling into the irresistible African groove in six presented in the original.

Davis and Taborn’s fingers, like the tentacles of an octopus, have the ability to pull simultaneously this music in many directions or, in certain circumstances, make it flow within the same current. As spunky experimenters, their interplay is both surefooted and focused, aiming at a voluminous overall whose parts are congruously attached. There’s a lot to digest here, but this is definitely worthy of your time and attention.

Filipe Freitas
Jazz Trial