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01/05/14

Eric Revis
City of Asylum
Clean Feed

What makes improvised music such a unique art is that each piece can be created only by those people, there, in that moment. City of Asylum, the splendid new record from bassist Eric Revis, pianist Kris Davis and drummer Andrew Cyrille, could have been made only by those three musicians, at New York’s Samurai Hotel, on April 12, 2012. Different musicians, a different location, a different day—everything would have come out different.

That City of Asylum works so wonderfully is a testament to Revis’ brilliant idea of gathering such disparate players. (Revis, best known for his work in Branford Marsalis’ quartet, enjoys doing this; his previous record for Clean Feed featured pianist Jason Moran, saxophonist Ken Vandermark and drummer Nasheet Waits.) Cyrille and Davis are at opposite ends of their careers, Cyrille being famous for working with pianist Cecil Taylor in the 1960s, Davis being touted as one of the Downtown scene’s most promising up-and-comers.

Davis’ minimalistic style thrives in this setting, and the trio’s support for one another could not be more convincing. Seven of the 10 tracks are entirely improvised, and three are true compositions: Thelonious Monk’s “Gallop’s Gallop” (with which Davis takes great harmonic liberties), Keith Jarrett’s meditative “Prayer” and Revis’ own “Question.” Otherwise, the trio makes art from scratch, with little adherence to traditional roles. Revis is almost always soloing, except when he’s keeping a groove (as he does, arco-style, on “Sot Avast”); Cyrille skitters across drums and cymbals, never really keeping a beat (he’s especially restless on “Egon”); and Davis employs a spiky, percussive style that largely avoids chords and melodic devices. The title track, which concludes the album, is a breathtaking piece of pointillism, with Revis plucking quiet pizzicato, Davis playing sparse single notes and Cyrille softly rumbling.

That’s not to say City of Asylum is without flaws. The big one falls in Davis’ lap the one time she goes for thick chords, banging the same ones over and over, to no good end, on “St. Cyr”; a retake should have been in order. But that’s picking on half a minute of an hour-long project. On the whole, Revis’ new disc is probably the most interesting piano-trio record of 2013.

Originally published in December 2013
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