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Kris Davis Underground: Save Your Breath

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The octet Infrasound is named for a low-frequency tone that is felt as much as heard. A phalanx of bass clarinetists-Oscar Noriega, Ben Goldberg, Andrew Bishop and Joachim Badenhorst-are the primary messengers of this mellifluous rumble, and are at the heart of this latest ingenious concoction from composer-pianist Kris Davis. But the soulful success of Save Your Breath resides as much with the unique rhythm section Davis has chosen. Organist Gary Versace and guitarist Nate Radley are equally adept at broadening the prevailing hum or providing spangled counterpoint. And drummer Jim Black remains the Charlie Chaplin of jazz rhythm, transforming pseudo-slapstick into high art with the esoteric brilliance of his timing and combinations.

In choosing engineer Ron Saint Germain, who has worked on records for Living Colour, Bad Brains and Sonic Youth, Davis makes it plain that sheer power is a priority. She flexes that muscle on two songs originally recorded with a trio: The episodic “Union Forever” is a remake of the title track from Union by Paradoxical Frog, with Versace delivering the orgasmic finale that originally went to saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock; “Whirly Swirly” (first done on Waiting for You to Grow with Tom Rainey and John Hébert) likewise builds to a crescendo, a stomping climax here primed by a guttural solo from Badenhorst.

Despite all the trappings, and the cacophonous intro on “The Ghost of Your Previous Fuckup,” Davis mostly restrains from rocking out, preferring to deploy all those resonant reeds (which range from contra-alto to contra-bass clarinet) to deepen the timbre and enrich the mix. (Indeed, the 15-minute closing title song is a swim into an ambient ether.) Solos are judiciously sprinkled around for everyone over these six compositions. But it is the originality of the instrumentation and the way the leader wields those eight ensemble pieces throughout Save Your Breath that are most likely to blow you away.

Originally Published