God is in the details. When I started truly focusing on Kris Davis’ 2011 solo date Aeriol Piano, each of the melodies, and then each of the phrases, and finally each of the notes seemed to accumulate additional meaning. A case could be made for this being true in lots of jazz, but there’s something in Davis’ music that underscores it. The Brooklyn pianist invests deeply in the character of both boom and plink – you can hear it as she courses through the 16 duets with eight instrumentalists on Duopoly. Whether she’s goosing a Billy Drummond tom-tom thud or refracting a Tim Berne sax screech, part of the glory lies in the music’s textural minutia.
Take, “Surf Curl,” a fizzy ode to fluidity made with Julian Lage. Like half the album’s tunes, it’s a written piece that Davis and partner interpret at will. As each player bounces ideas off the other, the macro gathers into a forceful wash while the micro blossoms with riveting singularities. It’s a tack that brokers a foreground/background blur, and it happens repeatedly as this parade of partners determines how to coincide. The power of the pregnant pause has never been as eventful as when Davis and Craig Taborn momentarily suss out their trajectory during the opening section of “Fox Fire.”
Duopoly’s second half is all about pure improv, yet each off-the-cuff gambit is architecturally sound enough to satisfy design-wise. “Marcus Gilmore” entices with a fluid exchange around a squirrly motif, and “Don Byron” is just as bewitching as the pair’s clarinet-piano pas de deux on “Prelude To a Kiss” from the written section. Even as “Bill Frisell” ends the disc in a ghostly haze, it’s hard to decide what to focus on, the aura or the ingredients. Watching it unfold on the album’s accompanying DVD of the session makes it that much more engaging. A big win/win those who appreciate process.