Anthony Davis | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Anthony Davis




Anthony Davis sometimes gets a bum rap for being "too academic." For straight-ahead jazz fans, that's code for anyone who dares to think before he swings; for devotees of free music it often indicates that someone has ties to the stuffy classical realm. But since studying music at Yale, where the pianist and composer met and began playing with trombonist George Lewis, trumpeter Leo Smith, and other major figures in the hugely influential but largely unrecognized New Haven scene of the 70s, Davis has been forging original music that pays no mind to either stereotype. He draws on a number of different cultural and musical spheres: his outstanding 1981 record, Episteme (Gramavision), stands as the most successful intersection of jazz and Indonesian music, and his largest-scale project to date, 1985's X, based on the life of Malcolm X, shows that the dubious combination of jazz and opera isn't always doomed. One of the key restructuralists, Davis always keeps his music architecturally engaged; he's said that ever since Ellington, jazz musicians have had a mandate to deal integrally with composition and arrangement. "If one thinks about music in this light," he provocatively suggests in the notes to Episteme, "one might perceive that the revolutions of Be-bop and of the Post-Ornette Coleman period are in fact reactionary in their conception of form and structure." His brand-new record, String Trio of New York With Anthony Davis (Music & Arts), finds him playing tunes by Ellington as well as Monk and Mingus. A sensitive, often brilliant pianist and an accomplished soloist, Davis is more reserved than most of his post-Cecil Taylor peers, preferring gentle, precise forays into dissonance and chromaticism to high-energy pummeling. He's in town to debut a new opera, Amistad, at the Lyric; its run starts November 29. This weekend he'll perform solo and with singer Cynthia Aaronson. Saturday, 8 PM, Unity Temple, 875 Lake, Oak Park; 708-383-8873. John Corbett

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Roy Black.

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