Kris Davis and Craig Taborn at Issue Project Room 2/15/2018 (by Nathan Bellott)

PERSONNEL:  Kris Davis (piano), Craig Taborn (piano)

SETLIST:  Interruptions #1 (Taborn), Love In Outer Space (Sun Ra), Untitled (Davis), Interruptions #2 (Taborn)

HIGHLIGHTS:  Davis and Taborn took the audience through the gamut of pianistic expression, united by the perfect acoustics of the hall.

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The forty-foot ceilings and stone floor of Issue Project Room’s theater in downtown Brooklyn was an ideal space for a two piano concert. Two pristine Yamaha 9-foot grand pianos were placed in the center of concentric seating. While at provocative rest the instruments suggested all manner of potential sounds. The seats filled up (extras were added) and soon the two minds came out to play, celebrating the release of the new record Octopus.

With two brilliant improvisors that also compose, there is the question of how much is planned in advance. They both had sheet music on the pianos, and both started with similar written motifs that built into improvisations. In the end, much of the hour-long concert must have been spontaneous, although their reflexes and responses have undoubtedly been honed by recent touring and recording together.

The music flowed freely and echoed a myriad of influences: the placid beauty of Morton Feldman, the rhythm of Stravinsky, serialism, Cecil Taylor’s intensity. In “Interuptions #1,” a piece by Taborn, each pianist had a chance to play solo statements. Davis used this opportunity to develop a textural lyricism, using touch, mysterious pedaling, and the range of the piano to create a soft soundscape. When it was Taborn’s turn,  I could see both hands and feet. At times he seemed to encourage the notes out of the piano with a free hand, not unlike Glenn Gould gracefully conducting the notes out of the piano.

Davis is famous for preparing her piano, which would manifest in Sun Ra’s “Love in Outer Space.” It’s a feel-good tune, familiar but foreign. The bass line is a simple groove in six and the harmony stays in the same place, a happy E-flat major. Davis used the prepared part of her piano as a clave, breaking the time up in six, three, two, and every other possible way. Among the highlights here was Taborn’s blurring tremolos between his left and right hands. After another long round of applause, they announced the composition names including their final number, Taborn’s “Interruptions #2,” carrying the thread from the beginning of the concert to a close.

by Nathan Bellott