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"Eagerly-awaited second CD on Fresh Sound. The Slightest Shift shoots for a unified, orchestral group sound that rarely puts any one member out front for long. If the conventional jazz band is like a basketball team in which one player has the ball while the others perform a supporting role, Daviss evokes a modern dance troupe whose members bob and undulate emphatically with one another."
"The Slightest Shift is young Canadian-born pianist Kris Davis' second release as a leader, following her acclaimed 2004 debut, Lifespan. Joined by her husband, drummer Jeff Davis, the ever reliable bassist Eivind Opsvik and the ubiquitous saxophonist Tony Malaby, this recent New York resident reconvenes her sympathetic working ensemble to investigate a new set of abstract post-bop compositions.
Davis' contrapuntal, open-ended writing avoids routine devices like conventional chord changes and head-solo-head arrangements with a neo-classical sensibility. Favoring gnarly, interlocking linear structures, Davis subdivides her compositions into cells, allowing individual players to alternate roles as accompanist and soloist at regular intervals. Each member routinely trades angular melodies, abstruse rhythms and advanced harmonies that challenge and complement their peers, making this one of the most satisfying group efforts of recent vintage.
An intriguing mix of influences, Davis' singular pianism is never derivative. Subconsciously revealing her classical training, touches of Ligeti and Bartok hover in the margins of her phrasing. Gliding gingerly over the keys, extracting pleasingly unique melodies and harmonies, Davis invokes the graceful delicacy of Paul Bley and Keith Jarrett on Jack's Song. Skittering up and down the keyboard with linear virtuosity on Once, she pounds out harsh clusters and jarring blocks of sound as capably as Don Pullen or Marilyn Crispell.
Drummer Jeff Davis plays his kit with an alert responsiveness, less a traditional rhythm section accompanist than a creative colorist and spry agitator. Opsvik makes a great addition to the husband and wife team. His melodically assured tone and inventive phrasing provide just the right balance between freedom and form to support the shifting undercurrents of these intricate compositions.
Tony Malaby seems to appear everywhere these days. A chameleonic soloist, he has an uncanny knack for finding just the right sound for each and every session, from delicate lyricism to unhinged frenzy. Sumptuous swinging refrains on 35 Cents, impressionistic balladry on And Then I Said and rapturous, vertical caterwauling on Once reveal his sonic palette.
An exciting, imaginative new voice, Davis uses her self-effacing writing as a dynamic model of democratically balanced improvisational structures. The Slightest Shift is another document in the nascent discography of an up and coming new artist. Don't let this one pass you by."
- Troy Collins, All About Jazz
"If Canadian pianist Kris Davis auspicious debut, Life Span (FSNT, 2004), was an indication of her progressive tendencies, then The Slightest Shift reinforces those forward-thinking ideas in resounding and surprising ways. Whereas her debut was colored with expansive lyricism and melodic tapestries, the new recording is a bolder statement of Davis' compositional prowess, and the music now involves more abstract, condensed and freer modes.
With the help of some seriously open-minded musiciansincluding drummer Jeff Davis, bassist Eivind Opsvik and the prolific sax stylist Tony Malabythe compositions accentuate a group presence, rather than amounting to singular performances. Each individual voice is channeled into a convergent path. The arrangements are similar to conversations whose content is equally shared by every participant. Sometimes they are turbulent, other times harmonious, but they're always interesting; the musicians' voices are individually and collectively vivid.
The opening Bloodwine is a good indicator of this intricate collaboration, with everything from unison lines to dramatic tempo shifts, heavy swing and layered solos. Davis delivers an intense and convulsive solo on Once that opens up a clear path for Malabys sonorous tenor; the rhythm section adds precision to the organized cacophony. But harmony also arises in the midst of these sometimes turbulent waters, as on the poignant Jacks Song, where Davis plays with a gentle touch.
Progressive listeners can take their pick from the avant gardism of And Then I Said, the surrealism of Morning Stretches, and the slow, winding dance of Twice Escaped, which builds in intensity. Davis has shifted her ideas, and this slightest of adjustments has resulted in an intelligent, captivating recording that's well beyond the norm."
- Mark F. Turner, All ABout Jazz
"Canadian-born, New York-based pianist Kris Davis takes the delicate left-leaning balance of form and freedom of her debut, Lifespan (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2004), and moves even farther away from the center on The Slightest Shift.
While Lifespan featured ensembles ranging from trio to sextet, the new record showcases Davis working group of saxophonist Tony Malaby, bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Jeff Davisall part of the first group's lineupand consequently demonstrating the kind of collective interaction that comes from working together on an ongoing basis. The Slightest Shift is a freer record than Lifespan, reflecting a comfort zone amongst the players that nevertheless avoids becoming predictable.
On this short set of just under forty minutes, the eight compositions may seem more open-ended, but its also a case of Davis compositional styleone that has always reflected interests in both jazz and contemporary classical compositionmaturing further. Instead of using conventional harmonic changes as a basis for improvisation, Davis writing reflects a deeper interest in the use of linear fragments to provide a basis for the quartet to move from one place to the next.
Bloodwine opens with a rapid-fire unison line between Davis and Malaby that quickly devolves into what appears to be complete free play. On further inspection, however, it's revealed to be a complex series of linked passages that ultimately resolve into a dark two-chord modal vamp where Davis solo gradually builds in intensity, with Opsvik and Jeff Davis in firm but responsive support. The shift from Davis to Malaby in the solo spot is a seemingly amorphous transition that bears the earmark of intention, but equally sports a feeling of pure spontaneity.
In many ways The Slightest Shift feels like its exploring a relatively narrow space, with one tune appearing to seamlessly move to the next. But in the same way that Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen investigates the rhythmic subdivisions within songs of similar tempos, Davis quartet explores what might appear to be a narrow harmonic context, but in reality is grist for deeper consideration.
The avoidance of conventional form on The Slightest Shift makes it a more challenging listen than the discreetly lyrical Lifespan. Although 35¢ starts with a bebop-ish line, Jeff Davis and Opsvik create a foundation that effortlessly moves between defined groove and a more textural approach that keeps Davis and Malaby in a state of continuous flux. And yet these shifts dont feel incongruous; the transitions are so organic that they make surprising sense. Jacks Song may begin delicately and with an almost pretty melody, but it remains abstract, with time becoming increasingly fluid as Malaby enters and works inside and outside of Davis gently melodic support.
The Slightest Shift is aptly titledit shows just how the smallest movement can drive this quartet in a new direction. But more importantly, its a release that reflects the leader's considerable stylistic growth as a performer and composer, strongly delivering on the promises made with Lifespan."
- John Kelman, All About Jazz
The adjective that comes to mind again and again when listening to this quartet recording by pianist and composer Kris Davis is refreshing. Much of The Slightest Shift sounds close to free improvisation, but there is also a recurring sense that one is listening to a modern chamber music ensemble. And the initial impression of at times decentralized free play belies a group working in close coordination within definite compositional frameworks. Along with Davis, Tony Malaby (tenor saxophone), Eivind Opsvik (bass) and the bandleaders husband, Jeff Davis (drums), make up the quartet.
The Slightest Shift is also a reminder that improvisation which pushes at the boundaries of form and tonality needs not have a furious and aggressive edge. Davis compositions and her groups improvisationits often hard to distinguish hereare sometimes heated but often contemplative and deliberate. And as animated as the music gets, as on Once, there remains a quality of peacefulness, rather than confrontation.
The opening Bloodwine is the first of several standout tracks. Its halting beginning gives way to a slow, swaying two-chord progression with a wide-ranging Malaby solo and Davis building increasingly tempestuous and dark chords beneath him. Morning Stretches is gentle and spare with, as the title suggests, a preparatory feel. It segues into the albums compositional highlight, the gorgeous Jacks Song. Similarly, Twice Escaped begins sparely, becomes increasingly layered and arrives at a solo piano coda that segues directly into the rhythmically complex and kinetic title track.
- Brian P. Lonergan, All About Jazz.
Kris Davis¹ quartet wastes no time on her second CD. Digging through eight of the pianist¹s turbulent, open-structured pieces in a crisp 40 minutes, they slide readily into collective groans, finger-snapping Monk-ish walks and tumbled heaps of crossed melòdic lines. Davis¹ compositions are carefully drawn but explosive. As she slices through expressive tangles of notes, tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby spars with Eivind
Opsvik¹s bass and Jeff Davis¹ colorful drumming, making for a spirited four-way conversation.
- By Forrest Dylan Bryant (JAZZ TIMES)