A Set of Inspired, Intimate Duos with 8 Seasoned Collaborators,
Out September 30th
Album features originals, covers and free pieces in an inventive palindromic sequence
CD/DVD includes FULL FILM of Entire Album — Davis in duets with
“We decided to limit the instrumental palette of the guests,” writes Davis in her booklet text, and so she chose guitarists Bill Frisell and Julian Lage, pianists Craig Taborn and Angelica Sanchez, drummers Billy Drummond and Marcus Gilmore, and reed players Tim Berne and Don Byron. It was only later that the album’s two-part structure emerged, and within that structure, “a symmetrical, palindromic sequence,” Davis writes, “with what [Breskin] calls a ‘mobius twist’ in the middle.” In other words, the players rotate once through and then again in reverse order, with Frisell starting and finishing. The midway shift from structured writing to free improv feels entirely fluid and continuous.
“Additionally,” writes Davis, “the tracks are paired by instrument, for cohesive focus and the suggestive hint (or illusion) of a ‘phantom duo’ between each of the guitarists, pianists, drummers, and horn players.”
The DVD portion of Duopoly brings the music even more vividly to life: “We also chose to make a visual record … which we hoped would be as live and uncompromising as the music. Shot by Mimi Chakarova with one fixed camera and one handheld, the goal was for this film to have a kind of 1:1 or indexical relationship to the music itself.”
With Davis at the center of it all, her pianism a marvel of dynamic control, harmonic mystery and sonic invention, Duopoly opens with the richly contrasting sounds of Frisell and Lage: first ethereal Telecaster-plus-effects on “Prairie Days,” then the pure, warm timbre of Lage’s 1939 Martin acoustic on “Surf Curl.” The duos with Taborn and Sanchez bring out yet more facets in Davis’s playing: “Two pianos is a unique experience,” she remarks. “I can lose myself in the sound. Angie and Craig are such great listeners, and it was an especially freeing and spiritual experience for me.”
The drummers, too, are a study in contrast, hailing from different generations: Drummond the veteran, Gilmore the rapidly rising newcomer, both with complementary approaches to sound and pulse and a remarkable gift for listening. Byrne and Byron, on their respective free improvisations, create one of the album’s most captivating transitions — from legato, middle-register clarinet to wrenching, extreme extended techniques on alto saxophone.
There are five Davis originals as well as two standards, in keeping with Davis’s approach on her solo piano discs: the Hakim/Sulieman/Monk classic “Eronel” features Drummond while Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss” features Byron in a gorgeously oblique clarinet rendering. There is one piece by Sanchez, “Beneath the Leaves,” a satisfying contrast with Davis’s vehicle for Taborn, “Fox Fire.” Davis’s original piece for Berne, “Trip Dance for Tim,” takes inspiration from the title of a great Berne composition, “Hard Cell (for Tom).”
The free pieces still convey a structural logic, as Davis remarks in the notes: “In some cases, the free playing sounds more ‘composed’ than the tunes do.” Some are first takes; other pieces needed more thinking through: “There was reconfiguration, experimentation, exploration: these were searching dialogues. This album captures the rawness, intimacy, and immediacy of that process.”