Kris Davis clearly communicates abstract concepts, a talent that endears her work to intellectual listeners. The imagery that comes out of her piano can be vividly cinematic, but her compositional style ensures that the sonic movie will likely be of the art-house variety.
Massive Threads is the second solo piano album for Davis, and like Aeriol Piano (2011), it distills her artistry in a way that sounds both austere and exploratory. “Ten Exorcists” begins with trance-like repetition reminiscent of Steve Reich or Terry Riley, then slides into a different repetition with brittle, prepared-piano notes thrown in, and continues those variations to create a gently intoxicating effect. “Desolation and Despair” shows her rhythmic mastery of resonance and sustain, like a better-edited Keith Jarrett. The lone cover, of Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence,” is not so much deconstructed as haltingly assembled with a few wrinkles, drawing out the syncopation before folding it into a brief, closing flourish of chamber blues.
The title track is the obvious centerpiece, comprising more than a quarter of the record’s length. Among other things, it demonstrates the wide variety of textures and tones that can be derived from employing different chords in similar rhythm. Its finale begins with a series of stark, ominous chords that grow in intensity to an angry level, and then, just as a slight revision is made and you’re expecting a different aspect of the storm, it fades dramatically. Massive Threads is filled with such logical yet unexpected surprises.