Slipknots Through the Looking Glass
GRAMMY award-winning bassist and composer Eric Revis, if nothing else, is consistently explorative and experimental. Slipknots Through a Looking Glass, his debut for Pyroclastic Records is definitely “out there.” Like his label mates he lives on the cutting edge. Revis is not embarrassed to admit that his music is on the esoteric side, saying “There may be an air of robustness around my music, but there is a lot of sensitivity and intellectual content.” As insight to his thinking, we’ll quote him in several places. His eighth solo-led album explores new territory alongside familiar travelers: drummer Chad Taylor, pianist Kris Davis and saxophone masters Darius Jones (alto) and Bill McHenry (tenor). Revis has played with all of them before but not in the same configuration. Drummer Justin Faulkner is featured on tracks 1 and 3.
Much of the music was composed but loosely enough to allow for collaborative input. Through a partnership with The Jazz Gallery, the LA native received a 2017 grant from The Rockefeller Foundation to spend some time at the Kykuit estate in Pocantino Hills, NY. Two compositions from that retreat found their way on to Marsalis’ 2019 GRAMMY-nominated recording The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul. Revis sought to interpret the remaining music through a range of treatments — both scripted and spontaneous. Master producer Ron St. Germain serves as production and mixing engineer for the recording which spans a wide array of textures and moods from the expansive to the intimate.
Opening with the syncopated “Baby Renfro” has the sound of both funk and jazz but an openness to it that gives it its explorative sheen. The trio-rendered “SpÆ” begins with Revis’ bass following by Davis’ tinkling prepared piano notes and industrial-like percussive sounds that conjure up a mysterious atmosphere. Taylor uses a mbira to create a percolating, bubbling as the rhythm and intensity builds. “Earl & The Three-Fifths Compromise” is a meditative piece with all members contributing as it builds into some spirited statements from the saxophonists before reaching an abrupt ending.
Revis asked his collaborators to approach the title track with controlled spontaneity, meaning more emphasis on energy than exact notes or notation. Incorporating three separate takes, separated by other tracks, Parts 1, 2, and 3 feature crossfades leading from one take to the next. “Shutter” was composed by Darius Jones and is a free jazz blowing workout between the saxophonists as the rhythm section spurs them on. “ProByte” initially seems to serve as a calming, atmospheric interlude but it too unfolds into some expressive dialogues from the horns. Beginning as a developing conversation between Revis and Taylor, “House of Leaves” represents a conceptual flex for Revis as a composer. The track centers around textural shapes — each, according to Revis, its own island. Exploiting space, the artists leave one island and reenter “nothingness” before traveling to the next. “It was interesting to see how the band could collectively navigate these islands,” says Revis. “Without giving it over to the musicians entirely, the process was more, ‘I have this sparse idea; let’s develop it into this next sparse idea, and then go on from there.’”
An artist fascinated by the surrealist movement, Revis keeps a digital journal of images and concepts flashing before him so that he might one day use them in his music. “The image of slipknots through a looking glass came up and I thought, ‘Wow — this is really cool.’” Immediately he connected his own artistry to the image’s inherent symbolism: the slipknot’s ephemeral nature further complicated by its reflection through the looking glass — was it even there to begin with, and where does it go when it disappears? “All those ideas are very, very much a part of this record,” he says. “The idea of a journey — although it wasn’t something that I set out to do, it’s a theme that runs through all of this record.”
“When I Become Nothing,” composed by McHenry, is beautiful in its melancholy as McHenry and Jones play softly above Davis’s shimmering notes and steady rhythm. “Vimen” begins as a vigorous trio exchange before exploding into both ensemble and solo exclamatory sax passages set to frantic rhythms of Taylor and Revis, as the last notes harshly linger in the air. Purposely, Revis’ music leaves itself to many different interpretations. It’s evocative and can range from anger, puzzlement, or joy depending on your own disposition when listening.
- Jim Hynes
More on the Artist
Eric Revis is an award-winning bass player, composer, and band leader. In addition to releasing a range of solo- and co-led records throughout his career, he has been an integral part of Branford Marsalis’ quartet since 1997 and has enjoyed creative associations with some of the music’s most unfiltered talents, including Andrew Cyrille, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Jason Moran and Betty Carter. Revis has enjoyed residencies and recurring performances at The Jazz Gallery in New York and The Blue Whale in Los Angeles, and currently tours internationally with his own projects.
On the Label
Pianist-composer Kris Davis founded Pyroclastic in 2016 to serve the release of her recordings Duopoly and Octopus with the goal of growing the label to serve cutting-edge artists that express themselves beyond the commercial. She establised a non-profit fund to help her accomplish this. Thus, the label features both established and emerging artists as it seeks to expand the audience for non-commercial art. Current artists on the roster include Cory Smythe, Ben Goldberg, Chris Lightcap, Angelica Sanchez, and Marilyn Crispell, Nate Wooley, Eric Revis and Craig Taborn. We may bring you reviews of some of them as we go forward.