Strong Place, Ingrid Laubrock Anti-House, Intakt; Capricorn Climber, Kris Davis, Clean Feed
Ingrid Laubrock, a saxophonist, and Kris Davis, a pianist, share an aesthetic of unsettled calm and unhurried revelation. Together with the drummer Tyshawn Sorey, they make up Paradoxical Frog, a trio that can make free improvisation feel structurally inevitable, like the logical conclusion to a far-reaching argument.
With their own bands, Laubrock and Davis favor a slightly more careful arrangement of ideas, and compositions with discrete parameters. They both like chamber-group dynamics, but shot through with rough texture and a vigilant avoidance of sentimentality. That they appear on each other’s new albums is no surprise: It confirms that their interaction is adaptable as well as sturdy, and suggests that they haven’t begun to exhaust its potential.
Both albums — Laubrock’s Strong Place, released in January, and Davis’ Capricorn Climber, due out on March 18 — feature quintets driven by the alert and sinewy drumming of Tom Rainey, who happens to be Laubrock’s husband. Each album also includes a resident mischief maker with a melodic instrument: on Strong Place it’s the guitarist Mary Halvorson, and on Capricorn Climber it’s the violist Mat Maneri.
On both albums it’s the second track, more than the first, that pulls you in.
The second track on Strong Place is Der Deichgraf, its title a nod to Laubrock’s German origins. The piece opens with a stern rumble of pianism, before the ensemble gives halting chase, and then tapers off into balladic terrain, without relaxing its intensity. (At one point the rhythm drops away to leave only Laubrock, circular-breathing a single note, and Halvorson, playing a wobbled-pitch version of the same.)
Laubrock’s band, Anti-House, has an insistent rhythmic footprint: One track here, From Farm Girl to Fabulous Vol. 1, pushes the idea almost to the point of irritation, with a strobelike repetition assigned to piano and guitar.
But the ensemble, anchored by the bassist John Hebert, also has a way with drift and flow. Cup in a Teastorm (for Henry Threadgill) features Laubrock’s focused meanderings over a garden of exotic chords outlined by bass and guitar; Alley Zen revolves around a swirl of arpeggios played, with lovely impassivity, by Davis.
The second track on Capricorn Climber is Pass the Magic Hat, which begins with a fluid piano solo over an amorphously syncopated groove. Gradually Laubrock enters the picture, and into sync with a melody that briefly surges before its ebb; what follows is a solo by Maneri, slipping through the cracks between tempered pitch. The entire track is an engrossing lesson in ensemble flux, carried out with finesse.
A similar energy spills over into the next track, Trevor’s Luffa Complex, named after the band’s bassist, Trevor Dunn, and featuring an initial melody played on glockenspiel. Several other tracks begin in hazy but thoughtful quietude, only gradually picking up heat and speed.
The quieter moments aren’t necessarily more placid, since Davis is wizardly with tension. And like Laubrock, who also does some serious work on this album, she’s comfortable leaving an open-ended impression.
— Nate Chinen, NY Times News Service
Aquarius, Nicole Mitchell’s Ice Crystal, Delmark
One thing Chicago jazz musicians did really well at a crucial time for the music — the 1960s, after the death of John Coltrane and the serious peak-Motown thinning of the jazz audience — was create mystical art with its feet on the ground. The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton: these people did the most unlikely and far-flown things, in composition and presentation, without scoring points off the terrifying or sublime or climactic. It was avant-gardism as an everyday solution, not as an eternally leading question.