Kris Davis: Rye Eclipse

Kris Davis’ quartet (tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby, bassist Eivind Opsvik, drummer Jeff Davis) plays music that is utterly impossible to anticipate yet contains its own discipline. It lives somewhere between free improvisation and modern composed chamber music.

Some of Davis’ concepts are specific, like “Prairie Eyes,” a long, passionate Malaby rise and fall over Davis’ obsessive piano figure. Some are diverse, like “Black Tunnel,” a stuttering, oscillating message stated like contrapuntal Morse code by piano and saxophone, which becomes two saxophone crises separated by piano skitterings. Then a single piano note becomes a stream and then raging rapids. Meanwhile Opsvik’s bass and Jeff Davis’ drums heave and lurch. Two minutes into “Wayne Oskar,” Davis’ fidgeting, zigzagging piano is suddenly revealed to also contain Malaby’s saxophone expletives, in rough unison. What you thought was random chaos turns out to be form.

One of the many things the listener must accommodate in this music is its enormous dynamic range. “Empty Beehive” (arco bass rustlings, tentative piano placements) is atypical because it barely breaks the silence. Most pieces shift alarmingly between whispers and shrieks. The role that Davis assigns herself is often to repeat simple figures, sometimes as simple as one note or one chord, which start as rational and become manic as they compulsively recur.

In return for patience and trust and a wide-open mind, Kris Davis’ music offers uncommon creative adventure.