Pianist/composer Kris Davis introduced her acclaimed 2019 album ‘Diatom Ribbons’ by talking about the micro & the macro, using the titular microalgae as an evocative analogy for her compositional approach. The comparison could be extended, in a way, to describe the legendary Village Vanguard – although in time, rather than in space (the basement club’s notoriously intimate confines don’t allow for much of a macro view). On this venturesome new double album, the long & storied history of one of jazz’s most revered venues coexists with the immediacy of contemporary invention in thrilling and unexpected ways. With ‘Live at the Village Vanguard’, Davis’ 2nd release with her far-reaching Diatom Ribbons band, she adds her name to the astounding roster of legends who have recorded at the Vanguard, yet the music takes forms that even visionaries like John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins or Bill Evans could never have imagined. The album, which dropped September 1, 2023, via her own Pyroclastic Records label, reunites Davis with her core collaborators from that album – drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, turntablist & electronic musician Val Jeanty and bassist Trevor Dunn, as well as the addition of a new voice to the mix in the person of guitarist Julian Lage. ‘Live at the Village Vanguard’ follows in the kaleidoscopic spirit of its celebrated predecessor, which was hailed as one of the top 5 albums of 2019 by both DownBeat & JazzTimes magazines while topping the list of both the NPR Critics Poll and The New York Times. The music is an inspired collage of eclectic influences, drawing on the music and philosophies of Wayne Shorter, Olivier Messiaen, Sun Ra, Geri Allen, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Charlie Parker, Eric Dolphy, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Paul Bley & Conlon Nancarrow, among others. In her role as Associate Program Director of Creative Development for the Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice at Berklee College of Music, Kris plays an active part in remedying the historic injustices and imbalances in the jazz world while serving as a role model in her own work. She and bassist Linda May Han Oh are only the second & third women to win the Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Album for Terri Lyne Carrington’s 2022 album ‘New Standards Vol. 1’, an honor they share with Carrington, the first woman to win the category with 2013’s ‘Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue’. This new record showcases the fact that Kris Davis also becomes one of very few women instrumentalists to have recorded at the Vanguard, preceded only by Geri Allen, Shirley Horn & Junko Onishi.
I had the honor of getting some time with Kris Davis to walk through the creation and performance of this new record. Kris explained how she was able to get onto the schedule of the Village Vanguard with Diatom Ribbons. ‘Knock Knock – who is it?” We got into the pieces of the band and how they fit into the whole of the space of the music and the spaces between. Having had Julian Lage on the program before it was clear about how these open-minded blazers of new trails made time for this project. Each person/artist fills a need for me as a listener to this live landscape – and you can feel the drops of their soul’s sweat in each note. We talk about song selection with honoring those who came before and also adding a bit of a newness to the past. Check out which tines we sorta dissect a bit including “Delores Takes 1 & 2”. I was able to get some insight into a new release on her Pyroclastic Record Label, “Sculpting Sound”, six high-definition concert films, each featuring two musicians famed for their distinctive voices playing with, and on, sound sculptures by Harry Bertoia‘s Sonambient sculptures. This has to be as maGical as it looks in writing. Kris and I also spoke about another visionry on the scene and friend of this program, Kassa Overall, as she was on his latest release and if you listen closely, there could be more to come.