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By : Steve B.

5 min read

Kris Davis’ recently released album “Diatom Ribbons Live At The Village Vanguard” is one of the best new albums I have heard in recent memory. Let me try to put that in context. I love improvised music, and the more open, freeform, and unexpected the better. But as I get older, I have less and less tolerance for endless chaotic noise and ego-driven individualism. I want contrast, a narrative arc, and a collective recognition of where the music is heading and what each person can contribute to the greater whole. There are certain musicians that I idolize for their technical ability, virtuosity across genres, stellar ear, and the maturity and humbleness to not be the center of attention but be part of a group. Pianist Kris Davis is one of those musicians, and in this album, she brought together other like-minded masters, wrote/selected songs that create opportunity and space for winding alleyways, and had the forethought and opportunity to play together over an extended engagement to give everyone time to find their space in the collective. The end result is this selection of live recordings from their shows at the Village Vanguard in May 2022, released in September of this year by Pyroclastic Records.

The core of Diatom Ribbons comes from the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, where Kris Davis, Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, and Electronic Musician Val Jeanty have leadership positions. That core has been playing under the name Diatom Ribbons for years and released a killer first album in 2019. For this incarnation, Davis brought in Julian Lage (leader of a stellar trio) on guitar and Trevor Dunn (of Mr. Bungle, Tomahawk, Fantamos, and Secret Chiefs 3 fame) on bass. What is striking is the absence of overpowering egos—it is the whole that shines, not the individual parts—and while Davis is undoubtedly the leader, she never dominates. The wide stylistic range and flexibility of each musician also creates the perfect environment for something special and unexpected to emerge. The fact that these musicians are regularly tapped by John Zorn speaks to their ability to effortlessly glide from disjointed stabbing chaos to more traditionally composed jazz, blues, hip-hop, rock, etc. Davis uses the group’s flexibility to expertly explore different styles and moods over the course of the 105-minute double album that unravels like a well-crafted story. Definitely check out “Diatom Ribbons Live At The Village Vanguard.”

—Steve B.

Originally published in-print in Boston Compass Newspaper #162 October 2023


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