Bassist Eric Revis is a fascinating figure who clearly sees jazz as a boundary-less realm where anything is possible. On the one hand, he’s been a member of saxophonist Branford Marsalis‘s quartet since 1997, and has been on five of pianist Orrin Evans‘ albums. But on the other hand, he and drummer Nasheet Waits backed Peter Brötzmann in 2009, and have also been members of the collective trio Tarbaby with Evans and guests including alto saxophonist Oliver Lake, tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, and guitarist Marc Ducret. In a 2013 interview, he said, “I think anyone aspiring to a true artistic aesthetic is aware of and checks out a vast array of material. The more this is done, one starts to adhere to a certain universality of music and art devoid of the hierarchy that artists often attribute to one music over another. I think if one stays true to this ideal, those influences make themselves apparent and permeate (in a very organic way) any art one is involved in.”
Revis’s albums under his own name are at times even more adventurous than the work he does as a sideman — or even with Tarbaby, a group he described in that same 2013 interview as “a total collective effort”. After two releases on his own 11:11 label (2004’s Tales of the Stuttering Mime and 2009’s Laughter’s Necklace of Tears), he made five albums for the Portuguese label Clean Feed between 2012 and 2017. Those included Parallax, a quartet album featuring saxophonist Ken Vandermark, pianist Jason Moran, and Waits on drums; City of Asylum, a trio disc with Kris Davis on piano and Andrew Cyrille on drums; In Memory of Things Yet Seen, a quartet session featuring Darius Jones on alto saxophone, Bill McHenry on tenor, Chad Taylor on drums, and Branford Marsalis guesting on two tracks; Crowded Solitude, another trio set, this time with Davis and Taylor; and Sing Me Some Cry, with Vandermark, Davis, and Taylor.
His latest release, Slipknots Through a Looking Glass, is coming out via Davis’s Pyroclastic imprint; she is also once again a member of the ensemble, as are Jones, McHenry, and Taylor. Marsalis’s longtime drummer, Justin Faulkner, guests on two tracks. The album journeys through a range of styles, beginning with “Baby Renfro,” on which the two horns play a staccato unison melody atop a thick groove. Revis’s bass sound is massive, and centered in the mix at all times. The piano doesn’t enter until the second go-round, and Davis, too, is playing something cellular and percussive.
The third track, “Earl and the Three-Fifths Compromise,” is a patient blues that bounces from one foot to the other like a boxer. Jones takes the quietest, most romantic solo I’ve ever heard from him, as McHenry looms in the background, then tags in, and they trade lines, eventually bursting into raucous harmony as Davis interjects with periodic trills. Revis rumbles implacably along, as Taylor and Faulkner divide the beat between them, one or the other erupting here and there but at more of a simmer than a boil.
The title piece is delivered in three short parts, amounting to about seven minutes of music in all. It’s a showcase for Revis, who twins himself on the first part, as a saxophone squeals almost inaudibly in the background and a few disjointed, equally buried piano notes are heard. “Shutter,” meanwhile, is almost punk jazz, the two horns playing long notes in unison as Revis and Taylor jackhammer the beat through the floor, and Davis goes off in free-boogie fashion as though nobody else is even in the room. When McHenry solos, he’s almost Brötzmann-esque in his fervor, and Jones nearly outdoes him when his turn comes, emitting long screams and raw, Pharoah Sanders-style snarls of notes.
This is a challenging album, but one that offers plenty of gutbucket, head-nodding pleasures, too. Don’t miss out.