ANTHONY DAVIS- BEYOND JAZZ
By ROBERT PALMER Published: November 15, 1981Anthony Davis had already been singled out by several critics as the most accomplished and impressive young pianist in jazz when he moved to New York City from New Haven, Conn., in 1977. As he has continued to demonstrate, most recently in a program of Thelonious Monk's compositions at Columbia University, he retains a formidable grasp of the varied resources available to jazz pianists, from the earliest styles to the most modern.
But ''Episteme,'' Mr. Davis's new album on the Grammavision Label, has at least as much to do with the complex rhythmic structures of African and Southeast Asian music and the intense, droning repetitions favored by contemporary composers such as Steve Reich as it does with jazz. Some listeners would say it isn't jazz at all, and Mr. Davis, who is now in his early 30's and divides his time between composing and playing in New York and teaching at Yale, his alma mater, would agree. To him, calling the music on ''Episteme'' jazz would be limiting and inaccurate; it's simply music.
Mr. Davis introduced the group he calls Episteme and the music it plays last year at the Kitchen, the performance loft at Broome and Wooster Streets in SoHo. The Kitchen used to be a showplace for experimental music in the tradition of John Cage and La Monte Young, but with the composer and trombonist George Lewis as its musical director, it has included jazz-based composers and various ethnic strains in its increasingly adventurous programming. Mr. Lewis, whose jazz experience includes stints as a trombonist with Count Basie and Anthony Braxton, was Anthony Davis's classmate at Yale. And like Mr. Davis, Mr. Lewis writes music that many people would hesitate to call jazz. In fact, the closest thing to ''Episteme'' on records is ''Chicago Slow Dance,'' Mr. Lewis's recent album on the Lovely Music Label.
The music on ''Episteme'' is scored for violin, cello, a flutist doubling on bass clarinet, George Lewis's trombone, Mr. Davis's piano, and three percussionists. It utilizes interlocking rhythms in several different meters and a number of mallet instruments to build up a hypnotic, shimmering sound that is very reminiscent of the gamelans or percussion orchestras that are traditional in Bali and Java. Mr. Davis has even underlined the similarities by calling his composition ''Wayangs,'' a technical term associated with gamelan music.
But the listener who stops at these similarities and concludes that Mr. Davis's entrancing music is nothing more than a gloss on gamelan music will miss the point. For one thing, much of the music's forward momentum is supplied by a jazz drummer, Pheeroan Ak Laff, who plays a standard drum kit and freely accentuates the written parts played by the other instruments. And the written music leaves room for improvisations that do more than mark time or weave variations on the written themes. Like the jazz composers he most admires -Ellington, Monk, Mingus, John Lewis - Anthony Davis writes music that forges composition and improvisation into what he calls ''a seamless and coherent musical structure.''
Seen from this viewpoint, the music on ''Episteme'' is more closely linked to the jazz tradition than one might have thought. Jazz has always drawn its inspiration from whatever was at hand. Jelly Roll Morton improvised variations on themes from marches and light opera during the earliest years of jazz, and today world music is as readily available for scrutiny as marches and operas were in Morton's turn-of-the-century New Orleans.
Growing up in Connecticut, the son of a Yale professor, Mr. Davis heard ensembles from the ethnomusicology department at nearby Wesleyan University perform South East Asian and African traditional music. It is natural that these influences should crop up in his music. But it is a mark of Mr. Davis's talent that he has transformed his original sources. His ''Wayang No. II'' and especially the new album's longest piece, ''Wayang No. IV,'' bring the improvisational talents and rhythmic acuity of some first-rate jazz players to bear on some ingenious and utterly bewitching repetition music. The album concludes with ''Walk Through The Shadow,'' an atmospheric piece for solo piano and a reminder that Mr. Davis is also impressive as a virtuoso instrumentalist. George Lewis's ''Chicago Slow Dance'' is performed by two reed and wind players, Richard Teitelbaum on synthesizer, and Mr. Lewis on trombone and electronic instruments. There are no overt references to specific world music traditions here, and without a drummer or a bassist the music lacks the forward thrust Pheeroan Ak Laff brings to ''Episteme.'' But Mr. Lewis has written an intriguing piece. It begins with a kind of moody stasis, sustained by non-Western reed instruments and subdued electronics. The musicians play back their parts on portable tape recorders, radically altering the mood. An unaccompanied saxophone solo from Douglas Ewart leads into a storming, free-for-all conclusion. Again, ideas that are readily identifiable as jazz - the saxophone solo, the collective improvising -have been integrated into a more broadly referential composition.
But isn't that precisely what jazz composers do? Duke Ellington's early uses of extended compositional forms and his celebrated tone poems for orchestra were attacked by some jazz partisans, and when Charles Mingus began directing his reed players to squawk through their mouthpieces, some listeners thought that wasn't jazz, either. The strength of the jazz tradition is its ability absorb influences from the most far-flung sources and still retain its identifying characteristics - improvisation, rhythmic momentum. The strength of ''Episteme'' and ''Chicago Slow Dance'' is that they combine the essence of jazz with repetition, electronics, process structures, and other elements that have been alien territory for most jazzaffiliated composers. The listener does not have to limit them by calling them jazz, or anything else. They can be enjoyed as music that is both sensuous and intellectually engaging, and that's exactly what their composers seem to have intended.
From an article at New York Times
special thanks to Isettal
Saturday, March 3, 2007
ANTHONY DAVIS- BEYOND JAZZ