Whether in group format, solo, or as leader, Kris Davis is on the rise. Her output over the last 15 years is numerous, yet not prolific. Instead, this Vancouver-born, New-York-based pianist and composer focuses on quality over quantity. Further, like many of her collaborators in the Big Apple’s creative music scene, she is not afraid to eschew the jazz label with which she is often classified.
And speaking of those collaborators, the lineup on this release is rather unique. Joining Davis on piano are Ben Goldberg, Oscar Noriega, Joachim Badenhorst, and Andrew Bishop on various clarinets, her husband Nate Radley on guitar, Gary Versace on organ, and Jim Black on drums. The combination of four clarinets, as well as both piano and organ, helps Davis establish a singular sound.
Indeed, Save Your Breath features solid, contrapunctal composed pieces – orchestral music in the guise of creative jazz. While I am not certain as to whether Davis ever played with Anthony Braxton or studied under him, one can hear a subtle Braxton influence here, perhaps due to Davis’ hanging in circles of Braxton’s ex-students and collaborators, such as Mary Halvorson and Tomas Fujiwara. But what lifts this recording outside of the jazz pigeonhole is Davis’s use of texture and space. Rather than just laying down individual lines, each musician is contributing pieces to an overall theme or sonic landscape. For instance, the opening track, Union Forever, resembles a cross between chamber music and French progressive rock. Not to say, however, that the group doesn’t break out from time to time, especially on the aptly-titled Whirly Swirly, or go all freak-out, such as on The Gost of Your Previous Fuckup. And Davis is not beyond a spacious interlude, such as on the title track, that borderlines on the electroacoustic.
Davis has been releasing solid material for years, but her trajectory is on the upswing – she keeps getting better and better. Save Your Breath is one of the stronger albums of 2015.