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Kris Davis: Capricorn Climber

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Which comes first, the pianist or the composer? Even on Kris Davis’ exceptional 2011 solo album, Aeriol Piano, the answer was elusive, the ingenuity of her writing and arranging seizing as much attention as her playing and improvising. On Davis’ new quintet recording, Capricorn Climber, the Brooklyn-based artist is so geared toward group interplay and an overall group sound, it’s even more difficult to sort out the sides of her individual talent.

Among new-school pianists, Davis is one of the least disposed toward stepping out, as engaging a soloist as she has proved herself to be. And even when she is taking the lead, she largely acts as facilitator, enhancing the overall sound with sharp accents, classically tinged lines and percussive rumbles. The band boasts two other exceptional soloists in tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, a frequent partner of hers, and viola ace Mat Maneri, who is new to their circle and plays something of a wild card with his wired lyricism. But Laubrock and Maneri also exercise restraint to serve the group aesthetic.

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