Laubrock & Davis Go to Town

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BLOOD MOON / DAVIS: Snakes and Lattice. Flying Embers. Golgi Complex. LAUBROCK: Blood Moon. Whistlings. Maroon. Jagged Jaunts. DAVIS-LAUBROCK: Gunweep. Elephant in the Room / Ingrid Laubrock, s-sax/t-sax; Kris Davis, pno / Intakt INT345

Ingrid Laubrock, one of my favorite modern jazz saxists, combines her talents here with that of Canadian pianist Kris Davis, who she had met at the Cornelia Street Café in downtown Manhattan shortly after her move to New York.

Kris Davis

Kris Davis

Davis’ Snakes and Lattice, which opens this CD, is an extraordinary piece using modern harmony that moves with the rhythm. This in itself is an unusual approach; in most jazz pieces, the harmony and rhythm are independent of each other, even in modern jazz, but by intertwining them Davis has created what you might call a “mind trap.” Both musicians must improvise within the confines of this locked harmonic-rhythmic approach, and the rhythms used are stiff rather than swinging, as in certain pieces by Monk (particularly Four in One). The difference is that, once the theme was stated and the musicians moved into their improvisations, Four in One abandoned the quirky double-time rhythm of the theme whereas Laubrock and Davis do not; but there is a twist. Towards the end, the tempo relaxes considerably and, although Davis keeps trying to maintain the rhythm, it is gentler, slower and does not “drive” the top line.

Ingrid Laubrock

Ingrid Laubrock

Laubrock’s Blood Moon is up next, and this is a slow, snaky piece. The melody is driven by the unusual chord changes, but with the rhythm being gentler and rather lyrical the top line is more graceful. Davis adapts to this style of playing with great alacrity, supporting Laubrock through most of it while adding her own frills. Playing tenor here, Laubrock delights in deep, rich tones, giving much of the second half of the piece over to Davis before they move into the coda and finale.

This is followed by a joint improvisation titled Gunweep, which starts with Laubrock playing weird atonal licks on the soprano sax, after which Davis comes in to play ostinato figures in the right hand and unusual arpeggios in the left. Laubrock responds by playing a series of fast, repeated Es before branching out into a lyrical-but-atonal improvisation while Davis feeds her crunched chords. The tempo gradually slows down as both artists move to the conclusion.

Flying Embers, also written by Davis, begins in a spooky manner, almost sounding like a spaceship warming up, before Laubrock move on to playing soft, breathy, long-held notes against Davis’ piano sprinkles. Laubrock’s Whistlings is an edgy piece comprised mostly of stabbing, two-note motifs, again in staccato rhythm, which eventually explodes into a flurry of outside playing on her soprano sax while Davis plays Twilight Zone-like phrases behind her. Eventually the rhythm is suspended as Laubrock again plays upper register flurries on soprano, then settling down into something resembling, but not quite, a melodic line. Davis then has her turn in playing some outside lines in a chorus before they reunite to play a variation on the opening motifs, here coalesced into something a bit more substantial, before the piece just stops.

Maroon is a rather forlorn piece in which the music emerges in scattered fragments. Here, as in several of these pieces, verbal descriptions are inadequate to convey what is happening, particularly to lay listeners who have no knowledge of music, but suffice it to say that what they do here is extremely interesting, expanding and contracting their small motifs into something quite large and complex. Towards the end of this piece, they even play a complex variation in unison; I wonder if this was rehearsed or spontaneous.

This duo has that rare ability, like that of Ivo Perelman and Matthew Shipp, to tap into each other’s minds and direct this sometimes rapidly evolving music into forms and shapes that somehow make sense. In a piece like Golgi Complex, this musical telepathy almost sounds like wizardry, so perfect is their combined improvisation.

Rather than try to convey the detail of each track, then, I would simply recommend that you listen to this recording in toto. If you like free jazz, you’ll be in for a treat.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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