Rising star Kris Davis plays Seattle festival on Oct. 11.
The Earshot Jazz Festival, which starts Friday (Oct. 7) with a concert by Brazilian pianist and composer Jovino Santos Neto and runs through Nov. 11, always includes music outside the mainstream, but this year’s avant-garde roster is especially deep.
In addition to more familiar names such as Wynton Marsalis, Dave Douglas and Bill Frisell, the festival offers a wide range of experimentalists, including saxophonists Steve Lehman, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Gebhard Ullmann, Frode Gjerstad and Ingrid Laubrock; pianists Georg Graewe, Lucian Ban, Vijay Iyer (with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith), Kris Davis and Craig Taborn; violist Renée Baker and bassist Michael Bisio (with trumpeter Kirk Knuffke).
These musicians are very different, but they share an interest in what might be called improvised sound art. Davis, who has been playing Earshot since 2005, has a duo slot with Taborn on Tuesday (Oct. 11) at Cornish’s Poncho Concert Hall.
Earshot Jazz Festival
Friday, Oct. 7, through Nov. 11 at various venues in Seattle, Bellevue, Kirkland, Shoreline, Mercer Island and Edmonds. Single tickets free-$125; 10 percent off for purchase of tickets to five concerts, 15 percent off for eight or more concerts; all-festival pass $450-$500 (206-547-6763 or earshot.org).
Kris Davis & Craig Taborn Duo
8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 11, at Poncho Concert Hall, Cornish College of the Arts, 710 E. Roy St., Seattle; $10-$20 (206-547-6763 or earshot.org).
Davis’ star is rising. Last month she delivered an intense, take-no-prisoners trio set at the Monterey Jazz Festival and also had a spot at the Newport Jazz Festival in July. Her enthusiastically received new album, “Duopoly,” features duets and free improvisations with eight musicians, including Taborn, with whom she had never played before.
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“The idea was to play with musicians I hadn’t worked with much,” she explained last week in a phone interview from her home in Brooklyn, N.Y.
This daring approach is consistent with Davis’ desire to constantly widen her horizons. Frisell is on the album, too — “he is such a good listener,” she remarked — but the musician she hooked up with like a soul brother was Taborn.
“I was really happy when he said he wanted to do it,” she said. “I just think he’s one of the best pianists working today.”
Their duet on her composition “Fox Fire” showcases sparse passages with lots of space between the notes, executed with a crystalline touch, as well as restless, rumbling sequences with dense textures.
Pianists who play percussively and atonally are often associated with Cecil Taylor, but Davis emphasizes he was not a specific inspiration.
“Just because I play clusters doesn’t mean I’m influenced by Cecil Taylor,” she says. “but they [critics] hear that and they write it.”
Far more important was fellow Canadian Paul Bley, whose notion of improvisation as “composition in real time” is evident in both her playing and Taborn’s.
Another modern classical influence is Luciano Berio, whose stacked chords remind her of jazz, and for whom she named a tune on her 2014 album, “Waiting For You to Grow.”
Davis also loves to insert foreign objects into the piano strings — known as “preparing” the piano, which she learned a lot about in Paris while studying with pianist Benoit Delbecq.
“I’ve been using gaffer’s tape a lot lately,” she said, laughing. “It’s fun. People can’t really see what you’re doing and then this unusual sound comes out.”
In Seattle, she and Taborn will play both compositions and improvisations, she said but adds, “Who knows? The Earshot Festival is the second to last concert of the tour, so the music will probably be different.”
Who knows, indeed? That confident spirit of leaving things to chance will probably be a regular factor at the Earshot festival’s six-week journey through improvised sound art.