Sunday, October 9, 2016

Kris Davis / Craig Taborn @ Roulette, NYC 10/2/16

Craig Taborn and Kris Davis @ Roulette

Pianists Kris Davis and Craig Taborn’s first night of a two-week tour in support of Davis’ new release Duopoly (review coming soon) at Brooklyn's lovely Roulette was preempted by a critical piano tuning. Against the austere stage backdrop, the two concert grand Steinway’s on the theater’s stage were impressive, and the time taken to ensure proper intonation was certainly forgivable, but when the duo appeared, expectations were high.

Davis pressed the first key and the show had begun. The song unfolded slowly, whole notes delivered at a ballad tempo. The tension between the suspended chords filled the space between them. Taborn seemed to almost strike the keys, at first playing the silence. Then, fingers darting about the keyboard, his strikes became bolder and more frequent, until a melodic phrase shot out, was caught by Davis, and returned. The tempo picked up and Davis began delivering stabbing chord tones in quick rhythmic jabs. Taborn filled in the spaces between, until they began to move in an akimbo lockstep. The second piece started in an uplifting manner, two interweaving melodies connecting in tonal clusters, somewhat Taylor-esque, percussive, aggressive, but always musical and never without purpose. Davis held down the song's evolving structure while Taborn injected shots of energy into the syncopated, pulse driven logic.

At first, it was a bit unclear if the two were reading off musical scores - not that it mattered at all, however, it looked like Davis was, but less clear if Taborn was, as his papers were scattered across the top of the piano. However, in a short banter between songs, as David pulled a roll of duct tape out of a bag and began preparing the insides of her piano, Taborn introduced the concert as one in support of the new Duopoly recording, but where they were playing all new compositions from Davis. Mystery solved. In these compositions, jazz, classical, avant-garde and whatever other categories I am not naming, played together, oblivious to their roots but never betraying them.

Davis seems to be on a roll, and her new compositions, apparently unnamed at this point, seamlessly juxtapose dissonance and angularity with classicism and beauty - at times it felt like a cubist painting unfolding in sound. The compostions are getting bigger, but at the same time, she’s pared down the instrumentation (her last release, Save Your Breath, featured an octet). However, two pianos offer a lot of musical possibilities and this was thoroughly exploring with an assuredness that was refreshing and enjoyable.

Yes, after the long opening act of the piano tuner, expectation were high, but they were more than met.

Catch David and Taborn on the West Coast and in PA this coming week, and check out Duopoly, a series of compositions and free improvisations with an impressive roster, including Taborn, Bill Frisell, Tim Berne and many others. (Available at the Downtown Music Gallery).

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