Pianist Kris Davis has perfected a great trick, dressing her elaborate compositions in the guise of improvisation so successfully it’s barely possible to tell one from the other. By doing so she retains the freshness and unpredictability of unscripted interaction while at the same time keeping a taut conceptual grasp. In this she’s abetted by an allstar cast, including frequent collaborators like saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and drummer Tom Rainey.
Davis sets the mood with her purposefully intelligent promptings, only cutting loose herself on “Pass The Magic Hat”, before setting up the sort of involved interplay characteristic of all the pieces here. For her contribution Laubrock alternates between flowing but asymmetric rounded tones and heated timbral distortion, but meshes well with her frontline partner, violist Mat Maneri, during some tricky unisons. Elsewhere Maneri is angular and abrasive, sliding between notes in a way that ups the surprise quotient. In fact, it’s impossible to anticipate the trajectory of any of the selections. Much credit for such flexibility falls to the rhythmic ingenuity of Rainey allied to the nimble yet assertive bassist Trevor Dunn
Each number is event-strewn but cohesive. The title cut provides as good an example as any: Maneri and the leader pontificate dreamily to start, before building to an energetic crescendo of intersecting layers. A saxophone/viola theme emerges from the swirling chaos, providing a cooling interlude, which morphs into a tappy coda of sustained drones, culminating in a chiming conclusion recalling an oldfashioned clock. While highlights are too many to enumerate, one that sticks in the mind is Laubrock’s forceful tenor solo on “Trevor’s Luffa Complex”, goosed by some explosive comping from the leader.
One of the treats of this tremendous album is to savor the appealing blend of the cerebral and affecting, with new quirks revealed on every listen.