Eric Revis Has Slipknots Through a Looking Glass


SLIPKNOTS THROUGH A LOOKING GLASS / REVIS: Baby Renfro.* Earl & the Three-Fifths Compromise.* Slipknots Through a Looking Glass, Parts 1-3. ProByte. House of Leaves. Vimen. REVIS-DAVIS-TAYLOR: SpÆ. D. JONES: Shutter. McHENRY: When I Become Nothing / Darius Jones, a-sax; Bill McHenry, t-sax; Kris Davis, pno; Eric Revis, bs; Chad Taylor, *Justin Faulkner, dm/perc / Pyroclastic Records, no number

Bassist-composer Eric Revis, who first came to prominence accompanying jazz singer Betty Carter in the 1990s, here presents his eighth solo-led album, which resulted from a period of several weeks of solitude—happily for him, paid for by a nice grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Two of the pieces he wrote during that time came out on Branford Marsalis’ album, The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul. The rest are on this disc, scheduled for release on September 11. (A coincidence to have a CD released on 9/11 remembrance day?)

The opener, Baby Renfro, has the kind of beat one associates with fast funk music, but the melodic line is bitonal and quirky, played by the two saxes. Revis’ bass playing, both in solo and accompaniment, is exceptionally powerful—so much so that I had to turn the bass control down on my speakers because they were “woofing out,” if you know what I mean. The music switches to a medium-slow 3 before resuming its bitonal course. Nearly all of this is written out; only Revis’ two solo spots sound improvised; but it’s still an interesting piece by any measure. Kris Davis plays a piano solo that sounds like something from techno-rock…is it improvised? Hard to tell. It’s not particularly varied except in rhythm, and it fits the piece perfectly. A strange opener!

Next up is SpÆ, a collaboration between Revis, Kris D avis and Chad Taylor, who plays marimba on this track. This is free jazz of a particularly interesting sort, the music moving through several moods and keys before Revis doubles the tempo, David plays a short solo above it, and then things get really strange in a sort of free jazz collective. The music fades out on Revis’ bass.

Earl & the Three-Fifths Compromise is a slow number in 5/4, very moody and sounding much like a Charles Mingus piece. Again, much of this is through-composed with little improvised bits thrown in for flavor. Eventually we reach an interesting duo-solo by the two saxes; I can’t really call it a chase chorus because each is playing his own thing. Part 1 of Slipknots opens with Revis playing a bass solo while someone and something is playing soft, high whiny notes in the background (the alto sax?). This goes on throughout the track. Shutter is a fast piece in a stiff 4 with shifting harmonies behind the two horns, playing here in unison. McHenry’s tenor solo is raw and angry. In his second, even rawer solo, the tempo shifts to 3 over 4.

ProByte opens with what almost sounds like a tack piano solo, very quiet. Then Revis and the two saxes enter, the latter playing in counterpoint opposite one another. At times they come together, then the alto proceeds in a solo. This one keeps trying to deconstruct as it moves along, but somehow keeps from doing so. Slipknots Part 2 picks up from where Part 1 left off, which is in the middle of nowhere, and keeps on going through that strange terrain.

House of Leaves is, if anything, even more disconnected, opening with the bass playing what sounds like sporadic notes, followed by a brief motif by the two saxes, then more disconnected phrases and gestures. Do I detect a bit of David Murray’s influence?

Indeed, by this point in the album nearly all the pieces are in slow tempi and most have an irregular pulse and bitonal or atonal harmony. An exception is When I Become Nothing, which has a very simple but attractive melodic line. Though the meter varies, it is regular enough in places to capture one’s attention. Vimen largely consists of Revis banging his bass with the bow, sometimes edgewise, while the percussion plays around with the beat and meter behind him, although Davis comes in with a free-form piano solo that is extremely interesting. The music continues to morph and grow, including a strange bitonal melodic line played by the two saxes in unison. At 11:36, this is not only the longest track on the album but also acts as its climax. The encore is—you guessed it—Slipknots Part 3, largely a pizzicato bass solo as we go off into the sunset, fading into nothingness.

This is really an excellent album, one that will keep you engaged from start to finish. As we once heard in a Twilight Zone episode, “the next stop is Willoughby!”

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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