Kris Davis’ Diatom Ribbons: Live At The Village Vanguard

Pianist leads somewhat experimental music that can be unfocused and overladen with effects but includes some powerful boppish solos

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Skip this paragraph if you already know what diatoms are – they’re a form of plankton, categorised as somewhere between plants and animals. They convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and are believed to create anything between 20-50% of the oxygen we breathe. So, basically good guys.

The tunes range from the soulful, laid-back version of Geri Allen’s The Dancer and Davis’s own Brainfeel to the sometimes rather frenetic yet meandering group playing typified on the opening version of Ronald Shannon Jackson’s Alice In The Congo. Occasionally I would have welcomed a little more obvious focus, but these musicians are clearly and undoubtedly on a common wavelength and much of the music implies a constant process of tentative negotiation, searching for an agreed way forward before determinedly locking onto a settled path, as particularly exemplified on the first take of Wayne Shorter’s Dolores.

In addition to the players listed below some tracks include spoken-word clips of Sun Ra, Paul Bley, Karlheinz Stockhausen and the great 20th-century composer and ornithologist Olivier Messiaen, whose work influenced Bird Call Blues (which, along with take two of Dolores, is probably the highlight of the album for me, not least for its powerful boppish solos by Davis and Lage) and whose inspiration is very evident at the start of Parasitic Hunter, which also includes clips of Stockhausen talking about what he calls intuitive music.

I confess there were times when I would have preferred a little more airiness in this music with a little less busyness in the effects department, and maybe a little more focus, but there is plenty else to enjoy and appreciate, including much fine work by Carrington and Dunn. So, basically good, guys.


Discography
CD1: Alice In The Congo; Nine Hats; The Dancer; VW; Dolores (take 1); Bird Suite Part 1: Kingfisher (53.44)
CD2: Endless Columns; Bird Suite Part 2: Bird Call Blues; Bird Suite Part 3: Parasitic Hunter; Brainfeel; Dolores (take 2) (51.11)
Davis (p, prepared-p, syn); Julian Lage (elg); Trevor Dunn (b, elb); Val Jeanty (turntables, elec); Terri Lynne Carrington (d). Village Vanguard, NYC, 27 & 28 May 2022.
Pyroclastic Records PR 28/29