Kris Davis – Piano
Bill Frisell – Guitar
Julian Lange – Guitar
Craig Taborn – Piano
Angelica Sanchez – Piano
Billy Drummond – Drums
Marcus Gilmore – Drums
Tim Berne – Alto saxophone
Don Byron – Clarinet
Pianist Kris Davis’ 12th release as a leader, Duopoly is a collection of provocative duets with eight like-minded musicians. The title does not only merely refer to the format of these performances, but also to the superb balance of the prewritten and the spontaneously created within the music itself.
Pianist and bandleader Duke Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss,” features clarinetist Don Byron weaving a mellow toned yet intense song over Davis’ thick, resonant chords. Their contemplative dialogue gets to the core of the classic tune and exposes its ingenuity with a very personal touch. The freely improvised “Don Byron” is a musing conversation that is as equally lyrical. Byron’s breathy clarinet meanders softly around Davis’ sparse chords and notes. The pair trades ad lib phrases that are simultaneously sophisticated and raw.
There is also gripping contrast in the different approaches artists have to the same instrument. Guitarist Bill Frisell creates serene and otherworldly ambience with his dynamic soliloquy on Davis’ “Prairie Eyes.” His indigo-tinged, thick chords echo against the pianist’s percussive refrains in a haunting conversation that conveys a sublime camaraderie.
No less electrifying is guitarist Julian Lange’s shimmering acoustic expression on “Surf Curl,” penned once again by Davis. The articulate and hypnotic exchange gradually becomes more angular as Davis and Lange mirror one another with their cascading keys and reverberating strums.
It is also quite intriguing to hear the contrast between Davis’ style and that of the other pianists. On Angelica Sanchez’s “Beneath the Leaves,” Sanchez and Davis create beautiful poetry that has a subtle undercurrent of the blues. They weave pastoral lines around the main theme, embellishing it with creative individuality.
The contemplative “Craig Taborn” is somber and darkly hued. Taborn and Davis let loose clusters of sparse notes that alternate with carefully placed silent pauses. These memorable exchanges gradually blend into dramatic and pensive parallel monologues.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this stimulating disc is Davis’ versatility. She counters saxophonist Tim Berne’s ardent and unfettered wails with visceral emotion and intelligent angularity. She exhibits amazing agility as she extemporizes around drummer Marcus Gilmore’s insistent polyrhythms. Her chiming piano ebbs and flows gracefully over drummer Billy Drummond’s elegantly reserved and resonant beats and thuds.
There’s no doubt that Duopoly is the high point in Kris Davis’ brilliant career so far.