Pianist Kris Davis has worked in many group settings, and her frequent collaborators include Ingrid Laubrock, Tom Rainey, John Hebert, and many others. Massive Threads is her second solo recording, a follow up to 2011’s Aeriol Piano. While almost all tracks are fully improvised (aside from a cover of Monk’s Evidence), she doesn’t shy away from her classical leanings. In fact, it is as if Davis is performing an avant-classical piano recital, calling upon the ghosts of Cage, Feldman, and Ligeti with her instantaneous compositions.
The album begins with Ten Exorcists, a repetitive, percussive piece for what sounds like a specially-tuned piano. The track also includes brief interludes of ominously-swirling counterpoint. The title track is similar in a way, with playful, yet dark, rolling blending into subsequent pounding, and then a quieter interval leading to similar dynamic chording.
Davis’s musical schizophrenia between the classical and jazz worlds is similar to the disconnect between her left and right hands on the piano keyboard. This is a woman who wants things both ways and is not willing to be pigeonholed or compromise. The result is an intriguing and intellectual effort that is too headstrong to be labelled as academic.