Pianist/composer Kris Davis is a patient musician. And she expects her collaborators, as well as her listeners, to be patient too. It’s not that she doesn’t have the requisite technique to bowl you over (she does), but her albums generally have a developing tone, and it’s best to take them whole, allowing them to unwind. Jazzier than modern classical, more formal than pure jazz, her territory holds to both idioms with assurance but is trapped in neither.
On Capricorn Climber, Davis keeps company with four other like-minded musicians, including longtime playing partner Ingrid Laubrock. Violist Mat Maneri has history of playing genre-defying music, having gotten his first bit of high-profile attention with his father, the iconic multi-reed player Joe Maneri. But Mat also conspicuously held up his half of the partnership on the titanic “Algonquin” with pianist Cecil Taylor. His education has been forged in fire. Tom Rainey shows up on many adventurous albums. Listen to the complex patterns he sets up a minute into “Too Tinkerbell” and you’ll understand why. Bassist Trevor Dunn has likewise emerged as a hot property in recent years. He’s got a deep background in the kind of communal idioms (he plays electric bass, and started out in rock) that make him a good choice for the projects that Davis favors.
I’m not sure what’s too Tinkerbell about “Too Tinkerbell.” Carefully played though it is, it’s an uneasily shifting piece, with Laubrock and Maneri sharing the front line while Davis plays tiny, off-kilter phrases behind them. Bass and drums augment the quietly turbulent mood. The opening of “Pass the Magic Hat” could almost have been played by one of Keith Jarrett’s or Paul Bley’s trios. Possibly the most straight-up jazz piece in the program, it still maintains twists and turns, albeit ones with all its hits nailed meticulously by all the players. “Trevor’s Luffa Complex” showcases the bassist’s hearty tone and easy facility around the fretboard, the execution always in service to making good music. The title track is an elusive piece, introduced by small, fast gestures to slow to a rhythmically tensile exchange. The piece speeds up again, hair-trigger call-and-response statements that grow in weight as the improvisations develop. “Dreamers in a Daze” reinforces just how much of Capricorn Climber resides in the collective subconscious. This is difficult music to play, requiring great facility and an uncanny sense of what is taking place around you; it is often best to allow yourself to tap into what’s hidden under the surface. Everyone here is adept at this, and these skills make for some subtly powerful music. Everything Kris Davis puts her name on is worth checking out, but Capricorn Climber is a particularly strong effort from this substantial musician.